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How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Online Shopping

Dec 13 2017 Read 1265 Times

With Christmas right around the corner, it’s no surprise that our shopping habits have gone into overdrive. And with the ease and convenience of online shopping more popular than ever, many of us will rely on delivery services to make our Yuletide purchases a doddle.

What many people don’t realise, however, is the damaging impact that buying all of your presents online can have on the environment. This is doubly true when we opt for one- or two-day delivery – especially if it’s free. That doesn’t mean that we should abandon online shopping altogether, but rather alter our habits to result in a greener, cleaner marketplace.

Brick-and-mortar stores vs online retail

There are many reasons why some people still favour visiting a brick-and-mortar store over browsing online. The ability to see and feel (as well as sample, in some cases) the product before buying is a huge incentive, while the lack of human interaction in online shopping is too impersonal for some.

However, the carbon footprint argument is not really valid in the majority of situations. Unless you do all of your shopping on foot, the car journey to the store will cancel out the delivery route taken by your driver – and even then, the goods still had to make their way from the warehouse to your nearest outlet. Buying online is almost always eco-friendlier, since deliveries can be consolidated and many orders can be bunched into one journey.

Express delivery a big no-no

The problems with online shopping arise when companies begin to promote express delivery for a nominal fee, or even worse, for free. The service is offered as a means of getting ahead of the competition, and while it can pose an attractive option for a consumer culture that’s becoming ever more impatient, it can wreak havoc on the environment.

That’s because it prevents deliveries from being grouped together and entails the necessity of more journeys – often by heavily polluting trucks. While passenger vehicles have (rightly) been the focus of the majority of emissions legislation in the UK and beyond over recent years, the vast majority of HGVs still run on highly polluting diesel engines. Though the industry has been looking to address the situation, in general trucks and lorries remain far more contaminating than cars and buses.

A change in culture – from both sides

So how can we make our online shopping habits more environmentally-friendly? Well, the enthusiasm to shop greener is certainly there; one only needs to look at the impressive growth at this year's Air Quality and Emissions event to see how more and more people are prioritising green practices. In many cases it’s simply ignorance; many of us choose the faster delivery option (especially if it’s free) simply because we do not realise the ramifications for our planet.

Therefore, a change in culture is needed both by the consumer and the supplier. Clearer labelling on the damaging effects of one- or two-day delivery should be displayed at the checkout stage, while financial incentives for a slower delivery could also work wonders in improving air quality and reducing transport-related pollution. And for our part, we should seek to group together orders and select a slower delivery whenever we can. In that way, we can work together for a greener tomorrow.  

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