December 26, 2013

Is Online Shopping Bad for the Environment?

This time of year we've been getting a lot of packages delivered to our house through online shopping and other people shipping us gifts.   Ok to be honest we're always getting lots of packages delivered since we do most of our shopping online nowadays taking advantage of stuff like Amazon Subscribe and Save and other online discounts.   Its convenient to have things delivered to our door.   But I have wondered if those UPS and Fedex trucks driving all around might be wasting a lot of gas.

My initial assumption was that it had to be more efficient for delivery trucks to run routes than for everyone to make individual trips to stores.  

Lets say a truck holds 100 packages and makes 50 stops in its route.   Each individual stop in the route only adds a small incremental amount to the total trip distance.  You might go a couple blocks out of the way to add a house or even have stops fall in between other stops.   The delivery companies will certainly do their best to optimize the trips because they know that saves them gas which improves their profits.   If you took the same 100 packages and had 50 individual people go and get them from a local store you'd have 50 round trips to stores which is certainly many extra miles of wasted gas and time.   

I confirmed my hunch not too long ago when I read about this study on the topic:

Grocery delivery service is greener than driving to the store
They say :
"University of Washington engineers have found that using a grocery delivery service can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half when compared with individual household trips to the store."

They have a couple graphics on their site that illustrate the kind of thing that happens in the example I gave.

I looked around a little more to find other sources. 

I also found another study Carnegie Mellon Study Finds Shopping Online Results in Less Environmental Impact

and they say :
"A new study by Carnegie Mellon University's Green Design Institute found that shopping online via's e-commerce model reduces environmental impact with 35 percent less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than what is produced in the traditional retail shopping model."

Thats two academic resports that support the claim that online shopping is actually more efficient.

I have confidence that the answer is that online shopping isn't bad for the environment and in fact saves gas over individuals making separate trips to local stores.

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