What if online shopping isn’t more eco-friendly?
A new study casts some doubt on the environmental benefits of online shopping.
The study from the Delaware Center for Transportation (DCT) found the extra trucks needed to support e-commerce place more wear-and-tear on pavement and increase pollution from diesel emissions. With residential and downtown streets not designed to accommodate frequent truck stops, parking, loading and unloading, trucks can also cause delays and compromise safety.
The biggest surprise is that the number of vehicles on the road aren’t decreasing despite the fact that customers don’t need to visit stores as much. Arde Faghri, a professor and director of DCT, said in a statement, “This suggests that people are using the time they save by shopping on the Internet to do other things like eating out at restaurants, going to the movies, or visiting friends.”
Researchers cautioned that the study only looked at online shopping’s impact on residential commerce and focused on the city of Newark, DE.
While not outright disproving the theory, the findings challenge assumptions that online shopping is more eco-friendly.
Several past studies have found a sizeable benefit to e-commerce when exploring greenhouse gas emissions simply because buying online reduces individual car trips to the store. The e-commerce infrastructure is also believed to require less space and energy (lights, air conditioning, etc.). Besides issues around trucks, the knock on online shopping is that it increases packaging waste. Any required airfreight would also be negative environmentally.
Whether it matters to online shoppers is a bit unclear with few studies exploring consumer views.
A 2009 Shop.org survey from BIGresearch found that 35 percent of respondents believed online shopping was better for the environment than store shopping, 31.2 percent didn’t think so, and 33.8 percent didn’t know. Of those believing online shopping was environmentally better, 60 percent would shop online more as part of a greener lifestyle. A survey by BIGresearch the following year found that almost half of 18- to 24-year-olds believed it was more environmentally friendly to shop online.
- Online shopping might not be as green as people think it is – University of Delaware
- Study: ‘Cyber Monday’ 50 Times Greener Than ‘Black Friday’ – Gigaom
- Study: Online grocery delivery is more environmentally-friendly than driving to the store – GeekWire
- Shoppin’ Where the Trees Ain’t Droppin’ – eMarketer
- Hey Mr. Green, How Ecofriendly Is Online Shopping? – Sierra Club
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think online shopping is better for the environment than shopping in physical stores? How important is it for e-tailers to show consumers that they are working to lessen their environmental impact?