Online Shopping: Better for your Wallet and the Environment?
Shopping online offers clear rewards. It’s more convenient to do all of your holiday shopping or purchase specialty grocery items without the need to leave the house. Online retailers are also able to offer their wares at lower prices than brick and mortar shops, due to lower overheads. However, there’s yet another reason to start browsing online for the perfect little black dress or recycled lighting fixture. Shopping online can also be more environmentally friendly, expending less energy. However, just how much more eco-friendly is online shopping? After all, online retailers still must burn fuel when shipping your items to you. It’s helpful to take a closer look at this aspect of e-commerce.
How E-Commerce Stacks Up
It’s difficult to pinpoint just how online shopping compares to the traditional shopping experience, with such a diverse range of services and shipping distances. There have been several studies conducted to attempt to put this into clearer perspective. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is one group that tackled this problem, using factors like vehicle emissions, shipping distances, retail space, and air transport in their calculations. They found that high street or shopping mall boutiques were not only more expensive for consumers, but also take a greater toll on the environment. Although consumers could benefit from immediate service, unsold products returned to the manufacturer created a higher rate of return than with e-commerce.
A high carbon footprint was created by the individual cars driving to and from the shops, which is eliminated in online shopping. Although shipping products creates carbon emissions as well, this was less significant than the toll created by returned products and consumers’ cars.
Another heavily cited study was conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, which found that online retailers use 30 percent less energy than traditional retailers. This study took the carbon emissions into account from consumers driving to and from the store as well, but it also considered the energy expended in a traditional retail operation. This includes security lighting, cash registers, display lighting, and air conditioning.
These retail expenditures can be significantly reduced or eliminated completely in an online shop, in which employees usually work from home or from smaller central hubs. Online shops tend to leave less of a paper trail as well, using electronic receipts or online newsletters rather than multi-copy paper receipts and ink.
Clean, Green Digital Displays
Furthermore, online shops have no need for bright lights, extra plastic packaging or flashy signs to draw in customers. Small businesses tend to work with local designers, such as a Vancouver or Edmonton web design team to highlight their products, boosting the local economy and reducing waste. They can choose from shopping cart software that offers an array of customized templates, or make their design even more unique with the top trends in website design in Montreal or New York. Digital displays are far more green-friendly than brick and mortar displays, which must be replicated with disposable materials in each shop.
Naturally, not every online shop will offer the same environmentally-friendly impact, and there are plenty of traditional retailers who focus on green business practices and fair trade. If you shop online but select next-day air shipping, for example, you’ll be using five times more fuel than ground shipping. In both online and traditional shopping, it’s best to choose ethical businesses with a short supply chain and buy local whenever possible.