Online shopping soars and several studies disagree on whether they affect more or less the environment than the traditional retail model.
More and more people are distributing things on our streets, from clothes to mobile phones, from records and books to furniture or precooked food. They do it in trucks, vans, motorcycles, electric bicycles or not, even on a scooter.
Ecommerce does not stop growing and the consumption, often compulsive, of what is so attractive that is offered on their screens, under the promise of rapid delivery , is a temptation to which millions of people throughout the world succumb daily world.
The undisputed leader of the sector, Amazon, proclaims on its website that “Online shopping is intrinsically more environmentally friendly than traditional retail.” But that is not so clear. It would be necessary to analyze case by case, and, although there are arguments that support this affirmation, there are also, and more than abundant, that point in the opposite direction.
What does not admit discussion is that to go on foot to buy products of proximity in the market or the store of the neighborhood is the best option for the planet. But, since the other models exist, it is worth analyzing which one is the least bad.
And finding the answer is really complicated, given the disparate conclusions of the still few existing studies, often commissioned by one or another sector of the distribution. For the moment, it seems undeniable that more purchases on the internet involve more delivery vehicles traveling more kilometers through the cities , which results in an increase in polluting emissions. And many more packages, often absurdly excessive.
But there are also advantages that allow saving energy and pollution, such as the disappearance of physical stores, with their needs for electricity, heating or cooling , transportation of their employees and travel, often in private vehicles, of customers, especially when we talk about large shopping centers (to which the new digital model is condemning closure in more and more cities). And that without counting the environmental impact of the building itself. The question is whether one thing compensates – environmentally speaking – for the other.
A study by Deloitte Consulting, do purchasing behaviors affect sustainability? a couple of years ago he concluded that the physical purchase has an impact of 7% less than the purchase online measured in terms of carbon footprint, mainly due to the enormous need for logistics of electronic commerce, its greater amount of transport and packaging, and the high energy consumption of the servers.
Less Unnecessary Packaging
Among its main conclusions are the obvious that traveling to the mall as a group reduces the environmental impact per product purchased and that the packaging for online orders (corrugated cardboard boxes, bubble wrap) have a higher environmental impact than plastic bags. or paper that consumers bring from stores.
But also that the volume of returns in electronic commerce, which generate a greater traffic of vehicles, is much higher: 33% of items purchased online is returned , compared to only 7% in the case of purchases made from face-to-face before a dependent can see and even touch the product before paying for it.
It must be taken into consideration that the study was disseminated by The Simon Property Group, which has numerous shopping centers around the world. Its director of sustainability, Mona Benisi, affirms not without reason that “in a time when consumers demand faster deliveries every day, which requires more resources and fuel to meet, it is likely that the negative impact of online shopping will worsen “
In contrast, Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, United States), specializing in electronics and robotics, came to the opposite conclusion: buying online is less harmful to the environment, because the impact of construction and energy needs are eliminated and of the individual transport of the personnel and the clientele of the physical stores.
The considerable consumption of paper and ink from traditional commerce is also greatly reduced . And the impact of transport to the home is less than the much less efficient, energetically speaking, road traffic of individuals coming in their private cars to make their weekly purchases.
The Green Design Institute of this university ensures that electronic commerce reduces energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions by up to 35% . But in this case we must also assess that the study was done in collaboration with the online retailer Buy.com, with whose data the analysts worked.
Although, “obviously, same-day delivery and other tight delivery schedules make it more difficult for the delivery company to combine shipments in the same neighborhood, which increases the distance traveled per item.and, consequently, the carbon footprint “, as do the returns, says Patricia van Loon, a researcher at Viktoria Swedish ICT, a Swedish non-profit institute focused on sustainable mobility.
Another positive impact of the Internet would be that, thanks to platforms such as eBay, millions of people sell used items, mainly clothing, books and all kinds of household items, which before this way would have ended up in the waste containers. This has allowed to endow many consumer goods with a longer lifespan , reducing the impact of the manufacture of new ones.
In addition, several transport companies are betting on the electric vehicle to cover part of its distribution network. UPS already has 1,500 electric vans, and DHL plans to work with the same mobility system. Tesla recently introduced a powerful electric truck. Although as always nothing is white or black before congratulating you would have to analyze the origin of the current that will charge your batteries.
“Unfortunately, there is no conclusive answer to the question of whether shopping online or in stores is better for the environment,” admits Dr. Van Loon. “Electronic commerce generates lower total emissions because customer trips are considerably reduced , but each situation is unique, so you can never say that electronic commerce is always better for the environment,” agrees Alexis Bateman, of the Center of Transport and Logistics of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States).