Is Online Shopping an Eco-Friendly Alternative?

Online shopping is incredibly convenient. You can shop from the comfort of your own bed and have your item within a matter of days.

However, green online shopping is difficult to gauge. While it has several benefits, there are severe downsides that bring into question the economic impacts of shopping online.

A History of Online Shopping

Online shopping dates way back to 1979, when businesses would use an electronic information system known as a videotex as a two-way messaging service. Almost twenty years later, Amazon started selling books online in 1994 with the promise of "delivering any book to any reader anywhere."

More than 20 years later, you can do your grocery shopping online and have your goods delivered from the supermarket straight to your home in sometimes a matter of just a few hours.


Most green companies will have information on what they are doing to negate their carbon footprint.


Online vs In-store: Pros and Cons

Shopping online has just as many benefits and downsides as shopping at a physical location.

E-commerce makes it easy to shop for any item you can imagine. If you decide you want to order 20 frying pans and have them at your restaurant by tomorrow evening, you can do exactly that. Physical retail locations are limited in the amount of product they can put on display at any time.

Online shopping also makes it possible for you to get digital products like books instantaneously. When you go to a store in person, you’ll be able to take your goods home with you right away, as well. However, shopping online for non-digital items often comes with a shipping delay that varies depending on the site you use.

One of the most helpful benefits of going to a physical store is that you’ll be able to inspect each product for yourself. If you aren’t sure exactly what you want, seeing each item in person can help you come to a more informed decision. When it comes to online shopping, you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get until it arrives.

How Carbon Emissions Work

Transportation is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions for both in-store and online options. On average, online shopping has just as much of a carbon footprint as traditional retail shopping, but that environmental impact happens in different areas.


One of the largest contributors to carbon emissions is the number of packages that require air travel. Overnight and express shipping options also significantly increase the transportation carbon footprint.


Physical retailers have to deal with the cost of keeping their facilities running, which can leave a huge impact on the environment.

Which is More Eco-Friendly?


Online and in-store outlets are equally awful when it comes to eco-friendly transportation. In-store deliveries bring items to multiple customers in a single route, while online services have to drive to dozens of houses each day. However, residential delivery companies have invested heavily in fuel-efficient technology, so they tend to use less than semi-trucks.

Inventory Storage

Retailers often have to rely on dedicated inventory practices and space, especially when it comes to tracking assets during the holidays. Along with in-store product display space, physical shops have to manage several warehouse locations. Product displays also increase necessary storage space, since they need to be laid out in an attractive way.


Brick and mortar stores often provide more eco-friendly packaging options. Everything goes in the same bag and goes home with you. Shipped packages often come in individual boxes with shrink wrap and padding. Doing this for every package adds up quickly.

How Consumers Can Make a Difference

The way you shop can make a difference regardless of whether you shop online or in person. Here are a few behaviors you can adopt to reduce your shopping carbon footprint.

Buying in Bulk

When you’re ordering products online, try to group everything into one delivery. This reduces the amount of packaging necessary to get your items to you. If possible, buy groceries and other products you often use in bulk to reduce trips and product packaging.

Transportation Alternatives

Biking to the store and combining errands into one trip. Lots of individual trips to the grocery store each week add up to using a lot of gas for not many groceries. Relying on online grocery shopping, or combining weekly trips, is a great way to reduce carbon emissions from transportation.

Research Your Online Options

Some online retailers are more environmentally friendly than others. Most green companies will have information on what they are doing to negate their carbon footprint. You can also consider choosing shipping options that don’t require air travel, such as standard or local shipping.


Bree Brouwer

Bree has held plenty of media- and marketing-related jobs over the years now, like working as a PR and marketing assistant to a Hollywood screenwriting coach, and writing content for three different digital marketing agencies.

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