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The Environmental Impacts of E-Commerce - A Greener Way to Shop?

For the time-crunched or the just plain lazy among us, online shopping offers clear rewards. You can buy the week's groceries and tick everything off of your holiday list without the need to set foot outside the house or even put on pants. Yet there's another potential benefit to buying from ecommerce shops: it can help save the environment. Don't get overly smug just yet, because online shopping still uses energy in the form of packaging materials and the fuel used for deliveries. However, overall ecommerce may be better for the environment.

For the time-crunched or the just plain lazy among us, online shopping offers clear rewards. You can buy the week's groceries and tick everything off of your holiday list without the need to set foot outside the house or even put on pants. Yet there's another potential benefit to buying from ecommerce shops: it can help save the environment. Don't get overly smug just yet, because online shopping still uses energy in the form of packaging materials and the fuel used for deliveries. However, overall ecommerce may be better for the environment.

Reduced Carbon Footprint

Online retail outfits use 30 % less energy than traditional retail operations, according to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University. In a brick and mortar shop, the building needs to have display lighting, temperature regulation, security lighting, cash registers, and shop fixtures installed. For the staff members to get to and from work, energy is expended during the commute, and the business also uses energy during the initial construction of the building. This also doesn't include the energy that's expended by consumers driving to and from the shop. Choosing to buy your product online can save these CO2 emissions.

Although an ecommerce shop will still use up some degree of energy, this amount can be significantly reduced. Employees typically work from home, or commute to a more convenient location. No energy must be expended for customer comfort as it would in a traditional shop. Energy is still used to deliver purchases to consumers, but this is more efficient than every single consumer driving to and from the shop. The paper trail of doing business can be reduced with ecommerce as well, using online newsletters and electronic receipts.

Less Need for Product Presentation

In a traditional retail environment, a significant amount of paper and ink is used to create flashy signs to draw in shopper interest. Bright lights are used to illuminate products, and extra plastic or acetate packaging is used for display purposes. All of this is eliminated in an e-commerce shop. With programs like the ecommerce platform Shopify, you can pick and choose from customized templates and show off your goods in your own eye-catching digital displays. Shameless plug alert: I managed to put together my own online shop, dogscorner, and get it looking reasonably attractive without even one iota of design know-how!

A New Lease on Life for Used Goods

Websites like eBay have allowed millions of consumers to sell their old clothes, books, and housewares rather than just throwing them into the bin. This has created a longer lifespan for consumer goods, cutting back a bit on the amount of new products that must be continuously purchased only to be tossed aside after a short period of use. Auction sites used to be the only way to sell these products online, but with ecommerce sites being easier to set up, more and more individuals are choosing to flex their entrepreneurial muscles. A whole secondary market for vintage clothing, baubles and knick-knacks has erupted online as a result.

The long term environmental impacts of e-commerce are still to be seen. Certainly there appears to be much to support its environmental credentials- but many questions remain unanswered. For example what do people do with all the time they have saved by shopping online? Are they clocking up even more miles in their car than they would have done going to the shops? Weighing-up the environmental benefit of e-commerce is perhaps not as easy as it first seems.