Which is the Greener Option – Shopping Online or Shopping at a Store?

online shopping

Shopping online has become the method of choice for many people but I’m still not convinced it’s for me. It’s a matter personal choice but which shopping method is the greener option that also saves you money?

There are lots of variables when it comes to comparing online and in-store shopping, such as the type of goods being bought, how far away the shop is, how you will be travelling there and where the goods have been produced.

The impact of shipping and the transportation of goods is a major consideration when you compare the two shopping methods. When you shop at a mall or shop, you have probably used your car to get there, or taken public transport. Both these options involve the use of gasoline and the negative effect of its carbon emissions. You may not be able to find a parking space easily or may have to drive to another shop, further away, to find what you want, using more gas and causing more pollution.

On the other hand, when you buy online, your purchase is shipped directly to you. Many products sold online come directly from the manufacturer, using a method called ‘drop shipping.’ The seller doesn’t need to have a warehouse to store the products; they simply take the orders which they then pass on to the manufacturer, who then ships directly to the buyer. This eliminates extra shipping to a warehouse, a wholesaler, a warehouse etc, all of which cuts down on the amount of energy and gasoline used.

Statistics from the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions state that it uses up to 40% less fuel to ship 2 x 20 pound parcels by air, than to drive a 20-mile round trip to a store. If the parcels travel by road shipping, an amazing 90% less fuel is used. This is because your parcels travel alone when you drive to the shop but numerous parcels travel together when they are shipped.

Packaging is seen as the biggest environmental problem when it comes to online shopping. Much more paper and cardboard is used when shipping online purchases than when you buy from a store. At the mall, you can take your own recyclable and reusable shopping bags which cut down on packaging even more. Some people I know, who regularly shop online, argue that they reuse or recycle the packaging so it’s not a big issue.

The energy used to actually doing business is different with online sellers and retail stores as well. A bricks and mortar store uses huge amounts of energy for building, lighting and air conditioning; they need display stands and catalogs and fancy shop fittings. An online store is often a warehouse that doesn’t need to be fancy. Often, the online seller is actually the manufacturer of the product and this takes away the whole retail outlet/warehouse part of the equation.

So, where does all this leave us with comparing the ‘green’ aspects of online shopping vs shopping at a store? 

It comes back to personal choice, often based on some of the other aspects of the two shopping choices. I have friends who say that they like the better range available online. I’ve heard other people say they are just too busy to spend hours walking through a store, looking for what they want to buy.

Possibly the biggest advantage to buying online, that I have been able to find, has nothing to do with being a green shopper, and that’s price. Most people agree that you buy cheaper online than you do in a store. This makes sense when you think about it; online sellers don’t have the huge overheads that bricks and mortar stores have.

On the other hand, I like to see and touch an item before I buy it, so I need to at least visit a store before I buy, even if I then buy online. I wonder how many others feel the same way.

Many experts argue that the most environmentally-friendly shopping is buying items that have been produced locally, that you can buy within walking distance from your home, from members of the local community who own and run the store. Unfortunately, this strategy is simply not an option for many people.

The middle road would seem to be shopping online, trying to choose products that are produced as locally as possible and sold directly from the producer, rather than having the goods going through a warehouse system. A new study commissioned by the Green Design Institute of Carnegie Mellon University found that shopping from home uses up to 35% less energy than shopping at a store.

The worst shopping experience is when you travel long distances in your car to buy from a large shop with bright lights and constant air-conditioning, to buy an item that has been produced in another state or province, or worse still, overseas and then shipped to the store by way of one or two warehouses. The greenhouse gas emissions from this experience would be far greater than any other option.

In traditional retailing, 65% of the energy consumed is from getting the customer to the shop and home again. This makes shopping close to home and shopping online the greenest shopping methods which also save you money in transport costs.

So, how do you prefer to shop and why?


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