Online shopping has become increasingly popular over the past several years, with a rise in online users due to the coronavirus pandemic. People have started ordering more than just clothing and electronics online and have started purchasing groceries and cleaning supplies to avoid crowds. Online shopping accounts for one in seven retail purchases throughout the globe, and the value of online shopping in 2019 was $3.5 trillion, a figure that is rising by more than a fifth every year.

When it comes to online shopping, it is debated whether it is less harmful to the environment than traditional brick-and-mortar shopping. While many argue that it is, conclusive studies have found that there are many variable factors to consider when comparing the two side by side. 

For example, a study conducted by Sierra Club found that online shopping consumed an average of 30 percent less energy than in-store shopping. However, experts concluded that this was primarily attributed to the fact that traditional brick-and-mortar shopping requires people to physically drive to stores to purchase items. The same panel of experts established that there were obvious uncertainties and discrepancies in their analysis, especially regarding transportation to stores, as this varies significantly based on fuel economy and distance driven. Alternatively, another study asserted that online shopping is not necessarily more eco-friendly than traditional brick-and-mortar shopping. The study considered a handful of factors, including how online products require more packaging, with more products purchased online getting returned. This further increases the packaging materials used and transportation emissions created when fulfilling/returning online orders. 

Luckily, there are a handful of simple steps you can take to reduce the potentially harmful environmental impacts of online shopping. If you’ve found that you have been doing a lot more online shopping lately, then keep reading below for some great tips on how you can be considerate of the planet as you shop.

1. Purchase large quantities and consolidate multiple purchases from the same merchant 

This simple action is especially beneficial for the environment when you’re buying things like cleaning products or pantry items online. Buying in bulk reduces transportation emissions, ensuring you won’t need to re-order for a longer amount of time. Similarly, consolidating orders with everything you need for a given amount of time can also reduce waste and reduce your carbon footprint.

2. Avoid express delivery for non-food items 

For non-food items, express delivery requires merchants to always have available stock. This means that they also must have additional space and energy to store and move their inventory. Additionally, same-day or express delivery can incorporate air travel, which leads to higher carbon emissions. Express shipping methods carry a higher eco-impact than standard shipping, so opting for slower shipping methods is an easy way to go green when you’re buying something online that isn’t food.

3. Minimize returns 

Did you know that approximately 30% of all e-commerce sales are returned? Sure, the ability to return an item you purchased online is convenient, but it can significantly increase your product’s environmental costs. In the garment industry, 84% of all returns end up in landfills or incinerated. Play your part to avoid having to return something you bought online by only buying what you need.

4. Shop from sustainable retailers when possible 

Support businesses that have eco-friendly practices and are taking steps to reduce packaging, reduce overall waste, and elimate plastic altogether. Check out Green Dreamer for a list of eco-shops where you can get the majority of all of your day-to-day home and lifestyle products.

Help create a sustainable future for our planet by incorporating these actions into every online purchase. Be sure to stay tuned to the Kiwi Energy blog to learn more about ways you can reduce your environmental impact.