The way we buy everyday shopping items has been changing dramatically this century. In many countries consumers get what they want without leaving their home. But what are the environmental implications?
In a new study supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, researchers compared the greenhouse gas footprints of traditional versus online shopping practices. They focussed specifically on fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs) and three shopping choices: bricks and mortar (physical retail) and two online: bricks and clicks (online ordering, followed by home delivery directly from a physical store) or pure play (online ordering, with fulfillment via a parcel delivery company).
To calculate the estimated green gas footprint for each method in the UK, factors including emissions from transport, storage, delivery and packaging were taken into account. The results reveal bricks and mortar shopping, per item, is less climate-friendly than bricks and clicks in 63% of cases but better than pure play 81% of the time.
I asked one of the study’s researchers, Sadegh Shahmohammadi, from the Department of Environmental Science, Radboud University Nijmegen, for his key eco takeaways for shoppers.
He said: “Walking or cycling to supermarkets would have the lowest environmental footprints. Our analysis shows that in countries like China and the Netherlands where consumers often walk or cycle to buy FMCGs, traditional shopping is often the greenest method. In contrast, in countries where people often use a car to go to the supermarkets (such as the UK and the US), bricks and clicks is often a greener choice.”
By walking or cycling the paper estimates bricks and mortar shoppers can reduce their footprints by 40%; and it recommends pure players choose electric cargo bikes over vans.