Should you go to a store in person or should you shop online to reduce your carbon footprint?
Online shopping isn’t all that green, researchers say
If you want to reduce your carbon footprint from your shopping, should you go to a store in person or should you shop online?
This might seem like a no-brainer. Driving to a store comes with a carbon footprint so online shopping should clearly be preferable. After all, all you have to do to shop online is to click on a mouse or tap on a touchscreen.
Then again, someone has to deliver your purchases to you and the way that is done can be pretty carbon-intensive. In fact, say researchers in the United Kingdom, online shopping may come with a larger carbon footprint than doing your shopping in person at a local store.
The researchers simulated a large variety of shopping trips and deliveries so as to calculate the resultant carbon emissions. They examined various scenarios with such variables as delivery distances, transport types and warehouse power needs.
“We found that shopping via bricks and clicks (click and fulfillment via physical store delivery) most likely decreases the GHG footprints when substituting traditional shopping, while FMCGs (fast-moving consumer goods) purchased through pure players with parcel delivery often have higher GHG (greenhouse gas) footprints compared to those purchased via traditional retail,” they explain in a study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
On average, the scientists say, deliveries by a shop located nearby resulted in less than half as much CO2 emitted per item as deliveries by online-only retailers that rely on large distribution centers for storing and delivering packages.
How many items are purchased and how far they are delivered matter, of course, when it comes to the degree of carbon emissions involved.
Greenhouse gas emissions generated by local store deliveries, the scientists found, averaged about 0.07 kilograms of CO2 per item. By comparison, the sum was 0.18 kilograms for orders from online retailers and just 0.1 kilograms for in-person shopping.
Local shop deliveries tend to be more environmentally friendly than deliveries from online retailers because shoppers usually order several items from local stores whereas they tend to purchase fewer items over time via online retainers. As a result, items bought online are often delivered separately, which drives up carbon emissions.
The trick then is to buy items in bulk from online retailers so the purchases are all delivered at the same time. Switching to less carbon-intensive modes of transport in delivery can also make a difference. “[S]ubstituting delivery vans with electric cargo bikes can lead to a GHG emission reduction of 26% via parcel delivery,” the scientists say.