Is online shopping considered green living?
Is online shopping greener than buying from a store? It seems almost obvious because you don’t have to drive to the store, which cuts down on the amount of carbon emissions. At the same time, you have to remember that there are many variables when it comes to this. For example, is more packaging used when you order online? Are there really fewer carbon emissions? It’s hard to say, so you’ll have to make these considerations whenever you are shopping online.
Perhaps the biggest consideration is transportation. You don’t have to drive to the store, so online shopping is obviously greener from this standpoint. At the same time, the product had to travel from the producer to the seller. Is the online store using a simple transportation method from producer directly to warehouse, or are there many middlemen that are adding to the transportation?
Many big chains have a simple distribution method because they have priority from the producer. An online store might not have this advantage. You also have to think about how much extra gas is used to get the product from the seller to you.
Most of these products will be shipped via USPS or a similar method, which places all of the packages in a large truck. This ultimately cuts down on the carbon emissions since many packages are in the truck, so online shopping can be a greener alternative. It largely matters on how the seller is handling distribution.
The transportation burden will also be much less if you are near the online store’s warehouse. If you live in NJ and warehouse is also in NJ, then little transportation is needed. If the store is from CA, then it obviously isn’t green because the product has to travel a long way until it’s at your doorstep.
Packaging is almost always bulkier when shopping online. If you are buying from a store, then the only packaging is a few bags. You can remove this burden by having your own bags. If you shop online, then everything is placed in a box with paper or packaging peanuts to soften the impact of distribution.
You can often cut the packaging by asking the seller to place everything in a single box instead of sending things individually. The boxes can also be used for other means.
Online shopping often loses this category because it doesn’t take nearly as much packaging to ship a pallet of products. There is often some plastic wrap and a wooden pallet, which is reused with other shipments.
Another factor to consider is how many resources a physical store needs to make sales. The store first needs a physical location. This requires concrete to build the store and other materials for shelves and displays. The store must also use internal signage to advertise discounts so that people come in to buy items. Marketing might also be paper-based depending on the owner’s preference.
An online store just needs some server space. There’s no need for posters, shelves or other physical resources. While paper-based marketing might be used, online stores tend to stay online with their advertising.
A server can easily handle hundreds of online stores, but it could take an entire town for the same number of physical stores.
Considering that online stores must use servers to stay online, you might also be thinking about the amount of energy used to keep the server running. It takes a lot of energy to power a server, and it must be effectively cooled to keep it from overheating. At the same time, a physical store requires air conditioning and heat to keep customers happy, lighting during the night and the store’s sign must light up when it gets dark.
A physical store uses more energy, especially when you remember that a single server can house many online stores.
It’s hard to say if online shopping is always greener than a physical store, but it usually is. While it loses in terms of packaging and might lose with transportation, online shopping requires fewer resources and energy. At the same time, if a store is within walking distance, then it will be greener than shopping online.
Sandra Marino is a ‘go green’ enthusiast and loves spending time helping others learn how they can help the environment with the green blog, Green Geek Tips.