Our obsession with speed is killing the Earth

Sometimes I wonder how I can tie my shoelaces. I think how stupid I am. I used to think that Amazon was this amazing model for the future. That customer obsessed was a way all organizations should be.

There were these
nagging doubts that I simply ignored. Okay, Amazon treats its workers terribly,
works them like they were robots. I read about how Amazon used to keep
ambulances outside its warehouses because it knew its workers would regularly
faint from the overwork. I read about workers who were so pushed for time that
they brought empty Coke bottles to work to pee in. But hey, it was all in the
name of customer obsession, and putting the customer before everything else is
the way to go, right? Getting that delivery out the door in double quick time
over the backs of your workers, that’s progress.

Obsession. Think of
that word for a moment. In a normal world an obsessed person is unwell. Okay,
if they’re an artist or a mad scientist then we give them license to be
obsessed. Imagine a society as a whole that becomes obsessed. Not good.

When I heard about
Amazon reducing delivery times, I was in awe. This was progress. This was the
future. This is what it was all about. Was it? Is it? One-hour delivery. Wow!
Like landing on the moon. Like finding a vaccine for coronavirus. Like … Does
it sometimes seem to you that so many of our tech titans’ innovations are
trivial, if not destructive?

So, what good is
one-hour delivery? How many things do we truly need delivered in an hour? Will
the fact that we can get what we want almost instantly mean that we buy more
crap we don’t need? Still, what harm can one-hour delivery do?

Beyond certain limits,
speed becomes dangerous and creates exponentially more waste. An increase in
average speed of 1 km an hour for a car increases the risk of a crash by 3%,
with a 4–5% increase in the risk of a fatality. If you crash while driving at
80 km an hour, you are 20 times more likely to die than if you are travelling
at 30 km an hour. The harder the acceleration, the
greater the spike in fuel consumption. Consistent, moderate speeds work best
for the environment.

With fast delivery:

  • The delivery truck will likely be less full,
    thus wasting energy.
  • The truck will likely be driving faster, thus
    wasting energy.
  • The driver will be more stressed.
  • Larger stock levels will have to be maintained,
    with more waste.
  • If it’s food delivery, then definitely more
    food waste.

Why? For what? Let’s
say we have two options:

  1. 1-day
  2. 3-day

Now supposing we bring
some Earth Experience design thinking to bear. Supposing we now provide the
following options:

  1. 1-day
  2. Green
    delivery (3 days)

How do we design for
the optimization of the Earth’s resources? Because right now we design for
speed and convenience, and we might as well be designing for waste.

This is surely a time
to take stock. As a species, we are killing this planet and much of the life on
it. We are creating waste at unprecedented levels, and digital is a driver and
accelerator of our lazy, convenient and wasteful lifestyles.

We can use digital to
create a so much better and more sustainable world. Let us rise to the challenge
of Earth Experience Design.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
Interviews with prominent thinkers outlining what can be done to make digital as sustainable as possible.
Listen to episodes