How sustainable is online shopping? Advantages and disadvantages of digital shopping and ways to simply avoid CO2 emissions when shopping
Author: Katharina Healing
Online shopping is part of everyday life for most of us. Obvious advantages of online shopping: A huge selection, last-minute gifts, targeted searches for specific products and only the aspect of convenient pastime. A new hair dryer quickly? Everything is done within a few minutes. How practical!
If something doesn't like or fit, it just goes back. This saves you the trip to the overcrowded shops and also makes it easier to compare prices online. But is online shopping really more sustainable? So much can be said in advance: Online shopping has advantages and disadvantages for people and the environment. But there are also some tips on how you can reduce your own online shopping carbon footprint to a minimum - without sacrificing the convenient shopping experience.
Is online shopping sustainable?
The returns in particular leave a large carbon footprint and have a significant impact on the environment. Regardless of whether the products do not fit, do not meet expectations or intentionally several sizes were ordered. At the same time, more and more retailers are offering free returns to online buyers. While this speaks for good customer service, it also contributes to the increase in returns. And thus leads to an additional environmental impact that goes beyond normal production and shipping.
Moritz Mottschall, research assistant at the Öko-Institut in Freiburg am Breisgau, confirms that every shipment within Germany causes as many greenhouse gases as three kilometers by car. With 41 million Germans who did online shopping last year according to the Gesellschaft für Konsumforschung, a lot comes together.
But the delivery vehicles' transport vehicles also leave carbon dioxide emissions behind. In 2016, the top CO2 producers in power plants shifted to the transport sector. A quarter of these come from trucks that collect packages from airplanes or ships and bring them to the warehouse. A stopover before going to the shopping center or directly to the consumer.
Packaging is another big environmental problem. Retailers often use non-recyclable air poster film or polystyrene, which in turn increases the space required for the products. So more trips have to be made. In addition, many products have to be packed several times if consumers damage the film or shipping boxes. This is the only way they can remain competitive. Double packaging materials quickly come together for an article that is still to be sold.
Anyone who believes that every item will be sold again on a return is not always right. Many brands cannot resell the returned items due to damage or high processing costs. For this reason, according to the BBC Earth, around 2 billion kilograms end up in the landfill every year. This is the cheapest way that many consumers are not aware of when ordering products. Amazon, for example, is known for simply disposing of return products and no longer reselling them.
What consumers can do to shop online consciously
There are many advantages and disadvantages to online shopping. Because of the CO2 emissions that threaten our climate, it is still important to act consciously and responsibly as a consumer. Of course, it's also up to retailers to revise their return policies and systems in the interest of the environment. Still, everyone can start with their own habits.
1. Test size
Before you order three different sizes, it is always a good idea to deal with the sizes carefully. With the help of similar products that you already own and the usual size charts, sizes can be easily estimated. It is definitely worth a try. A little tip: Goods such as trousers and shoes have a very high return rate. So you can buy them better in the store.
2. Think about what is really needed
An important step before buying is to think carefully about what is needed. So neither offers nor promotions lead to distraction and therefore unnecessary purchases. Does something really fit in the closet or with the decor? It is helpful to leave an article in the shopping cart for a day and to call it up again. Enough time to think about a purchase makes it clear whether you really need something.
3. Slowest shipping option
Even though many of us don't like to wait, the slowest shipping option is always the best for our online shopping carbon footprint. The slowest shipping option always requires the minimum amount of packaging material and is only transported in full trucks. Some parcel shops also offer the option of self-collection. At DHL there are packing stations that you can specify instead of your address. You can also call GLS at the next parcel shop. With a backpack or a bag on your bike and off to the packing station - this way you can avoid driving and get your package in a more sustainable way.
4. Avoid single orders
Another easy way is to order multiple products from as few mail order companies as possible. Careful planning and bundling, instead of being distributed among many dealers due to minimal price advantages, saves on material consumption and also pollutant emissions. By the way, you can take a close look at online portals. Apparently you only order from a dealer there, but the shipping is often carried out by different companies.
5. Avoid returns
As already mentioned, returns are particularly damaging to the online shopping CO2 balance. For this reason, it is important to avoid returns as far as possible. So if you have doubts about the quality or size: try it directly in the shop.
6. Avoid: Try in the shop, order online
This leads directly to another questionable practice. To search real shops for the purpose of a price comparison or product tests, only to order the products later at a cheaper price on the Internet. This is doubly damaging to the environment because empty journeys pollute the environment and in addition the shipping and packaging of the order are added.
So is online shopping really more ecological than shopping in a shop? This is difficult to estimate because many elusive factors shape the CO2 footprint of online shopping - such as your own mobility and shopping behavior, the ambitions of the retailer and parcel services, the population density and the online shopping behavior of the neighborhood.
In traditional shopping, heating costs, lighting, driving by car or train are some of the decisive factors for a negative ecological balance. So every consumer can question their shopping behavior and use the tips above to decide whether online shopping is necessary or not. Because here too, the protection of the environment starts with ourselves and mostly on a small scale.