Which is Environmentally Better? Buying Locally or Online?

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Is it Greener to Order Online or Drive?

I am not a fan of shopping. I don’t like spending my time that way, making the trip, finding a parking spot, searching for the right size, basically not much about the experience.  Maybe its because I’m a guy- fortunately my girlfriend shares my point of view.

As a consequence, I try and shop as little as possible…and my wardrob definitely pays the price. When I do shop, I normally do most of the legwork online, comparing prices and styles, so when I do eventually decide to buy, I know exactly what I need and want to buy. What’s more I can shop while watching sports, listening to music, or lounging in my old comfortable old sweats. It’s pretty sweet.

With the holiday shopping season upon us, Green Blizzard was wondering from my carbon footprint perspective, which is better for the environment –   driving to the mall or ordering online?

Surprisingly, the environmental impact favors non-food online shopping. Buying  items online is actually more environmentally friendly compared to buying them at the local store.

The key negative downside of those local brick and mortar stores is that the store inventory often-time travel a circuitous route,  (more miles) to its final destination.  After a product is manufactured, it is sent to central warehouse, then to a regional distrubtion warehouse, and finally to the store. Many online shopping sites like Buy.com reduce the carbon footprint by cutting out the middleman.  The product normally travels directly from the distributors warehouse to consumer’s home.

A Carnegie Mellon study found that online shopping from distribution models like Buy.com are 35% less environmentally harmful compared to the traditional local retail model.   Amazon calculates that they use 1/16 of the energy compared to other companies to get the same product to the consumer. A significant portion of the product’s carbon footprint is caused by the consumer driving to the local retain store pick it up. This is called the “last mile”,  the last leg of the journey.

This study focused on the last leg and dissects it this waybreaks it down like this

Standard Delivery Van – 120 deliveries, 50 miles round trip generates 181g of CO2 per delivered item.

Car – 1 item to pick up, 13 miles round trip to the store generates 4,274g of CO2. What’s even more interesting is that if you order 2 or more items delivered together,  the carbon (CO2)  footprint per item drops to only 72g. Regardless, driving a car emits over 20 times more CO2 than the delivery truck.

The best transportation option if you have to shop in person is to take the bus because its footprint is  only 25% of what your car emits. Major delivery companies like UPS, (Green Blizzard UPS Green) FEDEX, USPS are shifting away from heavy fossil fuel dependence and introducing more electric and hybrid vehicles to their fleets, so online shopping will continue to become even more green.

It becomes a pretty easy choice, when buying online can save you money, time, hassle, while reducing your carbon footprint. I’ve used online shopping for graduate school books and have saved more than $100 every semester – big bucks for a poor graduate student and just another example of how it literally “pays” to be green. Start reducing your carbon footprint today this holiday season.

Speaking of books, check out Green Blizzard’s Bookstore and recommended list of books. Other Green Blizzard articles that will be sure to be of interest:

smaller footprint green blizzard pngsmaller footprint green blizzard png
No Initial investment. Really simple to do. Reasonable environmental return.

 

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2 Responses to Which is Environmentally Better? Buying Locally or Online?

  1. Sue on December 30, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    Great article, really puts into perspective how we get our food. Thanks for the post.

  2. ac on October 27, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    Thank you for this article. I have given up my car and just use a bicycle. My brother does all the grocery shopping locally at Ozark Natural Foods. I have been ordering my mothers incontinence products on-line since that’s the only thing we buy at Walgreen’s and they are very bulky to carry on the bike. Your article answered my question – it’s environmentally better to order on-line than make a trip to the store in a car. I have also moved to more washable products for my mom and have figured out how to reduce the disposable products by about 30%. I find it very satisfying to be able to make these changes and move more toward being part of the solution.

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