Is Shopping Online Eco-Friendly?

parcel delivery truck

In part, thanks to the pandemic, America’s shopping habits have moved online and we’re buying twice as much stuff on the internet as we were back in 2018. 

But is this good news for the environment and should we be concerned about this transition and the impact on the future of the planet?

A Simple Claim In Favor Of Online Shopping

We really wanted to learn that online shopping was better for the environment and according to the Fashion Footprint Calculator from ThredUp, it is!

They say that by shopping online you can reduce the carbon footprint of your shopping by 60% and that most of the negative environmental impact of retail operations comes from the fact that customers drive to the store. 

So, case closed, right? We can shop away and feel great about it, right?

A More Complicated Reality

Sadly, it’s not that simple. If you buy a lot of stuff online, say a month’s worth of groceries in one go, then you’re definitely doing the planet a favor by doing so. 

Your shop gets loaded in a van with many others and then it uses far fewer gas miles to get to your home than if you’d fetched it yourself.

But if we’re shopping for endless small items that come with free delivery?

Then it’s not so clear cut.

Then you’re going to be bringing a lot of vehicles to your home when previously there’d have been a single trip to the shops.

Packaging Problems

And while emission content may be lower for online shopping in bulk, both forms of online shopping tend to lead to a lot more packaging being used.

And much of that packaging ends up being thrown away which is not good for the planet at all. 

Rotten Rapid Delivery

And then there’s the problem of “rapid delivery” options. 

Ordinary delivery options are super-efficient and truly reduce your carbon footprint but rapid delivery? 

Returns Aren’t Great

That’s horrifically inefficient and estimates are that it results in three times as much carbon emissions as you’d generate if you went to the store yourself. 

Online returns are also a problem – while a traditional store restocks most of what it takes back in (unless it’s broken or unfit for sale) online retailers barely restock 1 in 2 of consumer returns.

Worse, 25% of the stuff that isn’t restocked is then dumped in landfill. 

What’s The Solution?

One thing that seems to work in Sweden is using a customer drop off point for deliveries that clients pick up from, this tends to reduce car journeys and delivery journeys. 

And more legislation to compel online businesses to act in a more ethical and eco-friendly affair would be a good idea too.

And we as consumers can order less often, in larger quantities and opt for efficient rather than rapid delivery to play our part too.

So, shopping online isn’t as eco-friendly as you might first think but it could be, if we all worked together – business, government, and consumer – to make it so.