Consumers can bundle purchases and not choose fast shipping to reduce the emissions generated by their online shopping. (iStock)

Online shoppers can reduce carbon footprint

Today is Cyber Monday, a day when big sales are promised to those who shop on the internet, but consumers may want to consider how their shopping habits contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent survey by the package delivery company, UPS, suggests Canadians are the biggest international online shoppers in the world. Among respondents, 83 per cent had bought from an international retailer, most often because the items was not available in Canada or cost less elsewhere.

Canadians say they are concerned about climate change, but may not be aware they way they shop can leave a large carbon footprint.

Trucks deliver packages, but if no one is home they must take them elsewhere, emitting more greenhouse gases. (iStock)

Minimize products’ travel, advises professor

“The worst thing that we can actually really do is drive to a store, check out a product and then order it online and do the fast shipping and returning,” says Anika Kozlowski, an assistant professor of fashion design, ethics and sustainability at Ryerson University in Toronto. “Really what we want to do is minimize the amount that products are travelling.”

Fast shipping does not give retailers the time to fill trucks and choose the best, most efficient route for deliveries. Deliveries are often made in daytime and if people are not home, multiple attempts to deliver may be made.

Kozlowski says it would be more efficient if consumers went to stores or other locations to pick up their purchases, provided they do not live too far away.

Where public transit is available, it can be better to shop at the store. (iStock)

Avoiding returns can help

Return policies can also lead to greater emissions. When returns are free of charge, consumers may buy several items, perhaps in different sizes, and then send back the ones they don’t want. Some retailers help avoid this by providing sizing charts and salespeople to help customers choose the right products.

Most of Canada’s population lives in urban centres and when stores are nearby, it can be more efficient for people to go there to make their purchases.

Bulk orders emit less

“Brick and mortar stores generally…have the time to build in optimization into that process,” says Kozlowski. “So, when they’re ordering, they’re doing bulk orders. Everything is usually coming over by boat or by freight. So, everything is packed as well as it could possibly be in shipping container. It’s going on the ground. So, very minimal impact and very economical.”

This compares with shoppers who go online and may not bundle their orders and they may choose same day or next day shipping.

Koslowski says shoppers can choose the best way to shop and if many do, collectively, they can have an impact on carbon emissions. She advises: “If we really want to be responsible citizens, (buy) slowest and more local.”

(photo: Stefania Yarhi)

Prof. Anika Kozlowski explains how shopping habits can affect carbon emissions.

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Categories: Environment, Internet, Science and Technology
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