Contemporary Global Environmental Issues
Is Online Shopping a Green Retail Option?
Ho Yan Nok (3035108796)
With technological advancements in recent decades, online shopping has become a more favorable business option than traditional shopping. Online shopping has successfully won customers over for its convenience as it allows consumers to browse, choose and order products from the comfort of their homes. Yet, environmental impact is seldom a topic of concern to most shoppers. Is online shopping better for the environment, or could it be worse? Considering the likelihood of online shopping to be widely adopted, the environmentally-friendliness of such retail alternative, in terms of transportation, packaging and warehousing, will be analyzed and discussed in this research paper.
Online shopping has increasingly entrenched in consumer culture. About 4.2% of purchases were done with a computer or hand-held device in 2011, compared with 3.3% in 2008 (U.S. Censes Bureau, 2011). While concerns about the environmental impact of online retail have been raised, there is no general consensus on the environmental impact of online retail versus traditional retail model (Crawford, 2012). The general public tends to think that the difference between the two models is quite insignificant since the energy used to operate the computer would offset the energy saved from not having to pick their goods up. Yet, Jerry Storch, the CEO of ToysRus, however, said online shopping is very ungreen. Is online shopping beneficial or harmful to the environment?
Materials and Methods
Books are the most popular items purchased online (Argyridou, 2009). The retail and e-tail product pathways of purchasing the same book, along with results from previous research are to be compared to show carbon footprint of the two retail options, and thus the environmental impacts associated with online and conventional shopping. The carbon footprint is a measure of the exclusive total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that is directly and indirectly caused by an activity or is accumulated over the life stages of a product (Wiedmann and Minx, 2007). It is usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide. Energy intensity and carbon emission are the two major factors contributing to carbon footprint. In this case, since both online and retail stores sell the same product, we assume the carbon emissions will make no difference until the product leaves the manufacturing stage.
To calculate and compare the carbon footprint of the two retail options, we have to first understand the stages gone through in the two retail pathways of buying the same book.
Fig. 1 General descriptions and quantifications of key retail and e-tail pathway stages
The above table shows important stages in the retail and e-tail pathways. The initial stages of either retail or e-tail pathway are similar. As seen in Figure 1, key differences mainly lie in transportation energy use, last-mile energy, packaging materials and warehousing.
Fig. 2 CO2 emissions associated with retail and e-tail pathway stages
Transportation is the largest contributor to carbon emissions in both retail and e-tail product pathways, customer transport in conventional shopping and last mile delivery in online shopping. More energy is used in transportation than in packaging, warehousing and other pathway stages. With reference to Figure 2, energy emission of customer transport is approximately 20 MJ/item higher than that of last mile delivery. Customer transportation accounts for 65% of emissions when buying the equivalent item at a retail store (Carnegie Mellon’s Freen Design Institute, 2011). Buying a book online requies lower energy expenditure on transportation and results in lower total carbon emissions than purchasing one from a retail store. Online shopping...
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