Earlier this month we published our special feature on “The Green Issue”. We reported that consumers are embracing home shopping, and in particular ecommerce, not just for convenience, but because it is seen as a more environmentally friendly way to buy goods and services.
A 2009 report from the Heriot-Watt University supports this view. It says that whilst “neither home delivery nor conventional shopping has an absolute CO2 advantage, on average, the home delivery operation is likely to generate less CO2 than the typical shopping trip,” in other words, shopping from home is, overall, a greener way to shop.
However, this weekend I read about a new report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology that found we need to buy at least 25 items from a website in one shopping spree before any environmental benefits take effect. According to the report, which was covered by the Telegraph, it may be better for the environment to drive to the shops rather than “rely on a lorry” for home delivery. It sounds to me as though the authors of the report are suggesting that lorries drive the length and breadth of Britain carrying just one parcel at a time and that they deliver to Land’s End and to Inverness in the same trip. We all know this is simply not the case. What’s more, the report ignores that Royal Mail still handles a significant chunk of parcel deliveries and that posties deliver these parcels as part of their daily rounds—often on foot.
Also, the report seems to forget that replenishing stores is also part of the retail supply chain. Product has to be delivered to the store in order for the customer to be able to purchase it there. Therefore, the report implies the journey from depot to home is more harmful to the environment than depot to store and then store to home. In fact, the study from the Heriot-Watt University found that “a person would need to buy 24 non-food items in one standard car-based trip for this method of shopping to be less CO2 intensive than having one non-food item delivered (on the first attempt) to their home by a parcel carrier.”
I find it hard to swallow that environmental savings can only be achieved “if online shopping replaces 3.5 traditional shopping trips, or if 25 orders are delivered at the same time, or, if the distance travelled to where the purchase is made is more than 50km (31 miles)” as the new report suggests. What the study by the Institution of Engineering and Technology set out to prove was that it was equally harmful for the environment to move carbon emissions from one sector to another—that is from offline shopping to online shopping. Yes, there is still more online retailers can do to be greener (see The Green Results Are In), but to say that it may be better to the environment to drive to the shops seems contrary at best and terribly bad advice in all other instances.--MT