Is Online Shopping Really More Eco-Friendly?

Shoping online is convenient and certainly easier than heading out to the store in bad weather or at peak hours. Are claims that it’s more eco-friendly than shopping at the mall really accurate?    

Buying online has gotten popular with shoppers. According to the market research firm ComScore Networks, we spent $102.1 billion online during the 2007 holiday season.

A report done by PriceGrabber found that consumers did 50 percent of their holiday shopping online last year, but that going green wasn’t the reason for the shift—it was all about the online bargains.

E-commerce vs. the Mall

It’s hard to judge how green shopping online actually is. It’s true that e-stores need less space and use less energy since everything is stored in one central warehouse. Once you consider all the packaging combined with the delivery trucks, online shopping tends to lose its advantage.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development decided to investigate the issue and funded a study done by two engineers, H. Scott Matthews and Chris T. Hendrickson.

Matthews and Hendrickson used the book trade for their case study, analyzing two scenarios: buying a book at a bricks-and-mortar store, or buying it online.

They calculated shipping distances, emissions from individual vehicles, the demands of retail space, airfreight transport vs. local truck delivery and the resources used to return goods.

Surprising Results

Their results, published in their report Economic and Environmental Implications of Online Retailing in the United States, found that shopping malls are indeed more expensive. The benefit of immediate service is quickly overshadowed by rising costs and the fuel spent when unsold products are returned to the manufacturer. E-commerce tends to have a lower return rate so was easier on the environment.

The biggest carbon footprint is created by all those individual cars driving to the mall. Again, e-commerce is greener in this area, particularly since companies like Purolator are moving to electric and hybrid vehicles.  It’s even more eoc-friendly if you opt for ground delivery and forego airlifted packages. In the end, Matthews and Hendrickson concluded, “E-commerce sales have a cost advantage and environmental benefits.”

Missing the mall already?

That doesn’t mean you have to give up shopping in stores. You can still visit your local mall to find that perfect holiday gift. Go green and use public transportation to get there or set up a car pool with neighbours to reduce the amount of traffice heading to the mall. If you must drive, then don’t make the tripto buy one item. Instead, do something called bundle shopping, where you get everything bought in one trip. Buy what you can online and then shop at the mall. With a little planning holiday shopping can be enviro-friendly.

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