Online retail has been frequently praised for the number of positive attributes it has when compared to traditional commerce. eCommerce is inherently more efficient than physically driving to different stores, and the convenience of online shopping is thought to be more environmentally friendly as well. For example, research conducted by the MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics found that the carbon footprints of traditional in-store shoppers were twice as large as those left by online-only browsers.
Benefits of eCommerce
Online shoppers travel less frequently to buy, exchange, or return items, which eliminates countless instances of individuals traveling by car from store to store. The process of shopping online can take mere minutes instead of hours, allowing people to focus more of their time on things that they genuinely enjoy. In addition, having delivery trucks drop off packages at multiple locations is more efficient and eco-friendly than forcing each individual to drive to a physical retailer, pick up their items, and drive back home.
On the surface, it seems like online retail is the clear winner over traditional brick-and-mortar stores. However, there are still a number of environmental concerns that eCommerce merchants and customers need to address and monitor if we want to significantly reduce our carbon footprints.
Environmental Concerns and eCommerce
One of the most troubling issues with eCommerce has to do with the growing consumer expectation of speedy 2-day delivery services. The director of the Sustainable Logistics Initiative at MIT, Josue Velazquez, explains that, “With fast shipping, companies are sending a truck that probably is not fully loaded because they cannot wait for other orders to consolidate; they need to send now. Therefore, the goods that they were delivering in one truck now are delivered in probably four or five.”
Further research conducted by MIT found that online shoppers who choose fast or express shipping for their items increase their carbon footprint by an average of 25%. The strong desire to get the product as soon as possible can cause even the most environmentally-conscious person to sacrifice sustainability for efficiency; and most retailers are willing to choose profit over eco-friendly practices as well.
Another concerning aspect of eCommerce is the rampant spread of “fast fashion” brands which sell clothing for ridiculously low prices online. In the hopes of scoring a great deal, unsuspecting customers purchase items from these brands only to receive clothes that look nothing like the picture. Since the items were so inexpensive in the first place, customers may choose to donate them or throw them out instead of going through the hassle of returning the products. This cycle contributes to wasteful spending, increased trash, and it allows poor-quality businesses to stay in business.
Lastly, since eCommerce is still evolving and spreading around the world, we simply don’t have all the answers yet. We aren’t sure of the long-term impacts that online commerce will have on the environment in the grand scheme of things. For now, retailers should focus on adopting greener business practices and doing what they can to leave the world a safe and habitable place for future generations.
Tips for Going Green
According to global studies conducted by researchers at Nielsen, 81% of consumers agree that businesses should do their part to reduce harmful environmental impacts. 73% of those surveyed also stated that they would be willing to change their own shopping behaviors if they would support positive changes, and over 30% of respondents said they would be willing to pay more for items that meet specific standards.
With these statistics in mind, it’s apparent that going green and being environmentally conscious is important in the minds of most consumers. If you’ve been on the fence about making changes in your products or place of business because it could increase the price of your product, now is the time to commit to going green. To renovate your company, consider making the following changes in your own business:
- Use more sustainable materials for your products.
- Do some research into your suppliers to ensure that the items they provide are ethically sourced.
- Reduce plastic use and consider experimenting with recyclable packaging.
- Give back to your local community by donating a portion of your profits to an environmental cause.
- Allow employees to work remotely to reduce emissions.
- Create a completely paperless workplace.
If you’d like more information about current online trends or insights regarding the future of eCommerce, you can check out our other articles here!