Is Online Shopping Eco-Friendly?

My biggest dilemma: I want a new travel mug that I can only find on Amazon, but I’m not sure whether ordering it or not because I’m not really sure if online shopping is eco-friendly.

I’ve been facing this situation A LOT lately. And turns out e-commerce vs local shopping is a whole thing. Way more complicated than I thought.

And well, there is not a simple answer to my question.

But in short: online shopping is more eco-friendly under certain circumstances.

I love me some relativism.

So let’s dive right in.

Why is online shopping eco-friendly?

I always thought that shopping online was doing more harm than good to the environment because sellers have to send your stuff directly to your home. It seemed that simple to me. But I was pretty wrong.

I had never thought about it this way. But when you buy stuff online, that stuff comes directly from a warehouse. But if you go down to a store, that product has first to travel to the store from that same warehouse for you to buy it.

Let’s see an example.

You live in a middle-size town in the middle of Europe. And you want a dress from a brand that has its factory and main warehouse in the USA.

So these are your options:

  • You can buy the dress online and they will send your dress directly from the warehouse to your home. So the carbon ‘miles’ of the dress is the result of the transport factory – warehouse – your home.
  • If you happen to find a brick and mortar store that sells that exact same dress, there will be a middle step that was not there online shopping. And the carbon footprint of your purchase will be larger: factory – warehouse – store – your home.

See? It seems silly,  but these little things sum up.

And of course, we’re oversimplifying the whole deal. But if you want to get technical, check out this article from the Standford Magazine.

So if we look at this info, online shopping is indeed more eco-friendly. But we need to be even more precise.

Where do you live?

If you live in the suburbs, in a village, in a residential area out of the city, in the middle of the tundra,…anywhere far from physical stores, online shopping will usually be the most eco-friendly option for you.

Why? Delivery companies have mastered the whole logistics thing and their philosophy is ‘deliver more spending less’. So they will optimize their routes, delivery dates and all their planning in such a way that they use less fuel and save some $$$ – or, from our point of view, some CO2.

But if you go to your store, you probably will need to use your car (or public transport if you’re lucky enough). And unless you plan all your shopping to perfection, probably you’ll be less efficient than the UPS people.

On the other hand, if you live in the city, the most eco-friendly –and probably the most practical thing for you to do – is going down to the store.

You can walk there, or maybe even use your bike. So your emissions for this will be close to zero. BUT if you order online, the delivery guy will come in his little truck, no matter how close you live to the FedEx office.

And where do you usually shop?

This study from the MIT analyses the behavior of consumers and their carbon footprint related to how they shop. It’s a pretty cray cray and in-depth analysis.

What it says is that the carbon footprint of online shoppers is almost half of that of traditional shoppers. But to really have this lower footprint you must shop ONLY AND EXCLUSIVELY online. Be a 100% cyberbuyer.

Environment-wise, the worst thing you can ever do is going to the store that has your dress, trying it on, going back home, and ordering it online. You’ll be doubling your emissions. Think about it.

How can I make online shopping EVEN MORE eco-friendly?

First of all, if you buy from sustainable brands, they will always do their best to deliver your things with the least packaging possible, and in the less impactful way possible.

 

If you buy from Amazon, you can select the ‘combined shipments’ option to receive all your stuff in bulk instead of receiving them one by one. Like this, they save some serious amounts of CO2. So if you’re not in a rush to get your things, this option will be amazing – mostly if you’re an avid Amazon buyer.

 

And for the love of god. Please. I implore you. Don’t order stuff you know you’ll return. I’m sick of these haul YouTube videos of people buying fast fashion stuff for like a dollar and asking the audience: should I keep it? Should I return it? In my humble opinion:

  1. This is cringey af.
  2. Its getting old, girl. Stahp.

Being conscious consumers is not that hard, I promise. Only buying what you really love AND need will make your life easier. Being wasteful shouldn’t be trendy.

So what is the answer? Is online shopping eco-friendly?

  • YES if you only buy online
  • YES if you live somewhere far from brick and mortar stores
  • YES if you’re not an impatient e-buyer
  • NOT SO MUCH if you live close enough to stores that you don’t need public transport or car.

So yep, that’s it. Confusing, I know.

But hopefully, next time you get something from my affiliate links you’ll do it with a clear conscience 😉

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