Wednesday, June 23, 2010

JIT grocery shopping

Of late, I have been observing that a lot of people order groceries online and having it delivered. I see a couple of companies doing great business. Don’t know if they are making money or not, but the delivery trucks keep rolling along.

That is what got me thinking about efficiently managing the deliveries. I went back to the days when I was growing up in India. Not everyone had refrigerators in their homes. Farmers markets could be found around the corner on a daily basis. Fruits, vegetables and milk (and other perishables) were sold on the road (home delivery). A cart would come in front of the house with all varieties of seasonal and non-seasonal vegetables, and you would just walk to the cart, pick whatever you wanted, pay for it and buy it. So, buying vegetables, fruits and milk was a daily affair. Milk was delivered (in some cases, milked from the cow) right at your doorstep every morning. Remember those glass milk bottles? When fresh produce is delivered to your doorstep on a daily basis, who would want to store them in a fridge? You can't get any more fresh than that!

Let's apply the same principle here and try to see if it yields us a way to make this planet much more green. Consider this scenario:
Order produce/meat/milk online (on a daily/weekly basis)
Delivery truck drops it off at your door step everyday
Use the produce for the day
Repeat the cycle

Now, there are a few problems with this model. For one, when does the delivery take place? It is going to be inefficient to deliver to every house at the same time. So, there is a lag, and some people may receive their goods in the afternoon. Then, there is the issue of the unused produce. Where do we store it?

There are several ways to solve this problem. Let's take a look at an already present infrastructure for delivery: USPS.
Have you noticed that the USPS truck rolls down every street every week day. There you have it. Deliver supplies along with the mail. The manufacturer supplies produce/supplies to the distribution (aka, local USPS post office). The produce is packaged appropriately for individual delivery. Remember, we are trying to deliver on a daily basis, so, the individual packages are not going to be huge. USPS personnel load these boxes into their trucks along with the mail. Of course, the trucks are going to grow in size and acquire a refrigeration unit. The postal worker delivers the boxes along with the mail to every household.

The next step in the equation is to design the delivery boxes (reusable, of course) so that they can maintain a constant temperature for 3-4 hours. The assumption is that mail will be picked up within this time period and the contents transferred into the house.

What this does is that it removes the necessity of every home having one huge refrigerator inside the house and another smaller one in the garage (like most of us do). This new arrangement will be a paradigm shift in the way we shop, get things delivered and store it. Once we get used to it, the amount of energy consumed by every household would come down, and the supply chain would be streamlined so that manufacturers do not need to add preservatives in our foods.

For now, the closest we can come to getting rid of the refrigerator is to reduce its size considerably. JIT food supply is the mantra here, and it will take some effort on everyone's part to make it happen.

Of course, Amazon Fresh, Safeway and others would love to ship on a daily basis.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Green Home

Ingenious use of space. Check this video on how a Hong Kong architect converted his tiny apartment into multiple living spaces. Of course, this works extremely well if you are the only person living in the apartment, since you can only occupy one space at a time.