Changes to customer behaviour and ideas have resulted in greater awareness and emphasis of environmental issues across the world. For example, Pew Research’s data says that about 2/3rds of Americans feel that their government isn’t doing enough to ensure the protection and conservation of the environment.
Associating such efforts with online shopping seems like a strange move, given that most people opt for online shopping out of convenience and for savings, not for the effects it might have on the environment.
Well, the fact of the matter is, online shopping does have effects on the environment, and some of them aren’t as bad as one would like to think.
The number of deliveries that increased e-commerce leads to might cause one to think that online shopping leads to a heavier carbon footprint, but this isn’t the case for a lot of companies.
Regardless of whether it’s going to a brick-and-mortar store or a fulfilment warehouse, items will go through the shipping pipeline. This means that they travel from their manufacturer to dock or an airport, then UPS or someone similar uses trucks to deliver them to retail stores or individual buyers. Up to this point, there’s no difference.
Where the difference in environmental impact kicks in, however, is with the customers; people who buy at brick-and-mortar stores have to travel to said stores. They might even travel to multiple stores looking for the best deal. This means that all that transportation is leaving an impact.
One could argue that going to a retail store is usually accompanied by other errands, which would be more efficient, if the average person was efficient in getting from one place to another. Additional factors like vehicle maintenance and driving behaviour can also lead to more emissions for less stuff done.
In contrast, UPS and FedEx and the like have a financial incentive to be as efficient as possible when it comes to their deliveries, which the ground-level is also a part of; drivers are expected to be efficient in their travels, and usually hold up to that standard. Delivery companies put in the time and resources to create the most efficient routes for their deliveries, which means they spend the least amount of resources to get the most amount of stuff moved around, which, in turn, cuts down on emissions.
Of course, there are some hang-ups
No system is perfect, of course, and online shopping is no exception. In theory, it’s great for creating more efficient and eco-friendly brands, but the reality is there’s a bit of work to be done.
For example, distribution centres’ primary interest is in ensuring that packages are delivered as efficiently as possible. However, data says that between 12-60% of home deliveries fail the first run, necessitating multiple trips, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the whole argument. Products also need to be picked up by the customers themselves at the warehouse, should they not be delivered properly by the third run, which circles things back to the whole transportation issue.
Another issue is that platforms like Amazon marketplace are being forced to make multiple deliveries with less stuff.
The good thing is that e-commerce platforms are recognizing the potential of their industry, and are working on initiatives to cut down on their carbon footprints.