With each passing year, more consumers are jumping on the internet commerce bandwagon. They cite convenience, product choice and the ability to find the lowest prices as some of the most compelling reasons for going along with the trend. If you are someone who practices conscious consumerism and are also a proponent of eco-friendly behaviors, you might be wondering what effect e-commerce has on the planet.
There are several obvious advantages of selecting your products from the comfort of home. For one thing, doing so helps to reduce truck and automobile traffic. Not only are you not driving to brick-and-mortar stores to select your wares, but also the entire product distribution system can become more streamlined. In the end, that can mean a reduction in the use of fuel as well as in emissions.
Vehicles are not the only things that use a lot of energy; physical stores also do. If the majority of goods could be shipped straight from the warehouse with no need for retail sites, less energy would need to be used.
Ironically, many of the same things that make e-commerce appear beneficial to the earth can also have negative effects. For example, while some consumers are now foregoing physical stores and shopping exclusively over the internet, many are combining the two. The practice is called showrooming, in which they see and touch a product in person at a store and then elect to purchase it – often at a lower cost – from an online retailer. Ultimately, even more energy and fuel may be used in this dual process.
Another very obvious issue with e-commerce in terms of the environment is the packaging aspect. Think of all the container-board, bubble wrap, polystyrene/Styrofoam and plastic cushioning that goes into those millions of orders that zoom across the country each year. Although major online retailers and consumers alike are concerned about the packaging conundrum, no one has come up with a panacea yet.
Although making e-commerce more environmentally sustainable largely falls on manufacturers and retailers, there are some things that you can do as a consumer as well. Whenever possible, combine items into one shipment even if that means waiting a few extra days for your delivery. Although it might cost extra, choose eco-friendly packaging. Do your best to avoid buying impulsively. Finally, buy large amounts in bulk at local brick-and-mortar stores to consolidate trips and save on the ecological costs of delivering heavy shipments.
As with most things, online commerce presents advantages and disadvantages in terms of its impact on the environment. Since it has several compelling benefits and appears to be here to stay, you may make the choice to shop in this way sometimes. Just do so in an intentional way that keeps the welfare of the planet as your top priority.