Research: online shopping daily necessities choose local merchants more environmentally friendly

A new study in the UK suggests that buying groceries and cosmetics online can reduce carbon emissions, but only if consumers choose goods from nearby brick-and-mortar stores,media reported. It is claimed that if consumers choose local merchants to deliver their goods, the resulting environmental impact may be less than when consumers drive themselves to stores to pick up goods.

Research: online shopping daily necessities choose local merchants more environmentally friendly

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By contrast, buying the same items from online markets such as Amazon would have a greater impact on climate change, as shipments from distribution centers produce more greenhouse gas emissions.

There is growing evidence that the environmental costs of online shopping are becoming more and more complex as online retailers push for new spending habits. Research shows that online shoppers can bundle their products together and buy them from the same retailer to minimize environmental impact, but this could mean longer delivery times. Online retailers, on the other hand, can reduce emissions by finding cleaner delivery vehicles in the so-called “last mile” — the last distance from the warehouse to the front door of a home.

These measures will only become more important, given that more and more consumers are buying online items such as daily necessities, cosmetics and cleaning products, which are referred to in the study as “fast-moving consumer goods”. This fast consumer spends more frequently in consumers’ daily purchases than other items that are often purchased online, such as clothing or electronics.

“The overall impact of shopping is much greater than buying other products,” said Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a researcher at the University of Nemehen in the Netherlands and author of the study. That’s worrying, because his research has found that online shopping is also the biggest option for greenhouse gas emissions.

In 81% of simulated operations, brick-and-mortar shopping produced a smaller greenhouse gas footprint than online shopping shipped from distant distribution centers. The median greenhouse gas emissions of goods shipped from afar are twice as high as in brick-and-mortar stores and two to five times higher than from local stores.

The study, published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, was carried out by researchers at Unilever and Nemegen University, who also received EU funding. In the study, they simulated greenhouse gas emissions from fast-moving consumer goods.

And a study carried out about a decade ago found that shopping online reduces pollution from global warming more than driving to a store. Instead of driving their own fuel-guzzling cars to the mall, shoppers simply stay at home. Since then, however, the situation has changed dramatically, with vans increasing their frequency in order to meet consumer expectations for couriers.

“The world has changed in the last few years. So it’s right that people come forward and say we have to re-evaluate the net impact of online retailing on the environment,” said Alan McKinnon, a professor at the Kuhn Logistics University in Hamburg, Germany. Although he was involved in the study, his research was cited in his paper.

“At the end of the day, it’s still a complex issue,” McKinnon warns. “