Hands up if you shop online… I bet I can safely say most of you now either have a figurative hand in the air, or you look ridiculous with your right arm suspended mid-air on the bus. Let’s be honest, most of us have shopped online one time or another, however is it an environmentally friendly option for conscious consumers? Good question.
Remember a few years ago when all of a sudden Asos became the frequently repeated response when someone was asked where they got their fabulous shirt/coat/bag? That was just the beginning: what we now see is a huge tipping point towards online shopping. More than half of all Aussies now shop online and the industry is growing by close to 10% each year.
Last year we spent $16.9 billion online. And great news, three quarters of that online spending went to Australian companies. But how does this stack up environmentally?
Most of us might reasonably say “It depends”. Do you drive, walk or take a bus to the shops? Are you buying a heavy winter coat from Europe or some lovely lingerie from an local e-tailer? Here are some other things to consider when planning your next spending spree.
Reduce the carbon footprint of driving to the shops
Considering that nearly 80% of people use a car as their primary transport, online shopping has the potential to offer a huge reduction in carbon in terms of driving to the shops.
Bricks-and-mortar are energy intensive
Think of all the lightbulbs in a Westfield complex. Now multiply that by every Westfield in the country…that’s a lot of bulbs!
Storage and distribution are energy intensive
There are incredibly complex and costly storage and distribution models involved in purchasing clothing. Even more so when products are shipped to physical stores. Excess stock is commonly returned to warehouses and there are usually constant deliveries of new stock to the store. In contrast, e-tail streamlines much of this process so that a piece of clothing goes from factory to distribution warehouse to your home. Less steps means lower footprint.
This is definitely an impact of the e-tailing model, since products move to your home as padded packages rather than in a reusable bag.However many online retailers are getting the message and environmentally friendly packaging is becoming more common, as are carbon offsets, like Asos.
The ultimate environmental impact of online versus physical shopping really depends on an individual’s circumstances. Maybe you’re popping past the store on your lunch break? Or you’re driving to the store to do a bulk shop. Shipping a heavy jacket from Europe is going to cost a lot in air miles. Perhaps popping to the shops will reduce its impact?
But remember, if you’re about to drive to the shops for just one item, even if it’s an organic t-shirt, consider the other factors that feed into its environmental footprint.You’d have to buy about 24 items to make the trip equal to the carbon footprint of just one item ordered online – and we’re not recommending that kind of over consumption!
Obviously this is a simplification of a complex environmental and economic topic, but we’ve tried to make it easy enough for to consider the impact of both shopping experiences. The most important thing is to always keep in mind not only what the best deal is for ourselves, but also what the impact will be for our planet.
What do you think? Is online shopping more environmentally friendly? Do you know of e-tailers doing their bit to offset their carbon footprint? Tell us in the comments below!
Emily Edwards is passionate about sustainability and business transformation that will give the world (and her two gorgeous children) a beautiful future. With a Masters in Business, a Bachelor of Arts, a Licentiate in Music and a background in the social justice arena, Emilybrings a creative and encompassing perspective to the change agenda.