The Environmental Impact of Online Shopping

Image from Destination 360.comI did it a little this morning, and last night too. I wasn’t shy, and I even told a couple of people about it. I think you probably did it too. I’m talking about online shopping. This relatively new method of commerce is something that has changed the way we live. I’m interested in exploring the sustainable aspects of this form of retail, and what innovations can be made to increase its ecological footprint.

If any of you have ever lived out in the sticks than you know what it’s like to feel completely devoid of any fashion. This is not to say that fashion doesn’t exist in remote areas, quite the opposite actually, however the exhilaration of strolling down a Newbury Street, 5th Avenue, or the Avenue Montaigne is something that you can’t exactly replicate in Mom & Pop’s mini mall. When I find myself in more rural locals,  due to my love of nature, there is without fail a moment that I stop, look to my left and then right, and realize that a huge part of my diet (shopping & window-browsing) has been left in the last city I was in.

Before the 1990’s this realization would have pulled me like a yo-yo back to the city to do some serious damage to the stores that quelled my addition. But now, in 2010, I am able to simply set up my lap top and say hello to my old friends, Gilt, Sephora, Polyvore and get that same fix, virtually.

What this means is that I can stay local and shop worldwide. Any impact my car, or flight in some cases, may have had are all snapped up and traded in for the luxury of a little electricity and some shipping miles, which can be supplemented by a dash of carbon offset points and there you go! This is an interesting environmental problem, and one that I’m not fully sure about ultimate ramifications of. In doing some research, I did find a chart of the Chinese online shopping industry from 2001-2010 ( courtesy of

As evidenced by this chart, online shopping’s growth over short period of time is only developing.  There is simply no stopping the phenomenon of conducting all consumption, from your trip to the grocery store to adding the last piece of your vintage shoe collection, in the comfort of your own home. However, I ask the question, how does this help/hurt the sustainable consumption movement? How do you view your ability to shop online? Do you prefer human contact, and are you willing to adapt your basic shopping needs-I’m not talking about that dress you must have for wedding season, to become more sustainable-even if it means that you won’t be doing it in a traditional setting? I’m looking forward to hearing your responses and feedback to the online shopping climate, and if it’s possible to practice sustainable online shopping?


6 thoughts on “The Environmental Impact of Online Shopping

  1. I love to shop online, however it is harder to return items online. I like to see and feel the material in my hands and see it on me …. therefore I will continue to shop in person when I can.

  2. Yes, online shopping is a necessity if you are a fashonista living in a rural or just un-fashionable spot. Yes, there is potentially a greater environmental impact than shopping in stores, especially if you are someone that brings their own bags when they shop. I think that there are 2 things that we can do as online shoppers to mitigate some of that impact. One is that we can encourage and shop from companies that are committed to using recycled and recyclable packing materials. The other is that we can always choose ground delivery since the carbon footprint is a lot higher when air shipment is chosen. You can also choose to offset your carbon footprint for the shipment, but there are mixed reviews as to the effectiveness of this. I guess in the end we should try to shop local whenever possible and leave the online shopping for what we cannot find near us.

  3. Thanks for your great feedback Vanessa! I think you raise important points about the local shopping footprint. I also really like your feedback on shipping ground and using re-used materials in packing. I’m currently researching Eco-standards for online shipments that would standardized this option to ensure we as consumers have the power to select to be as sustainable in our purchases online as we can be in person. Thanks so much for participating in the discussion!

  4. What a great site! What I love about on-line shopping is that I can compare things easily. For example if I’m looking for a cute black purse, I can make little windows of the ones I like and see them back to back. Then with the time and travel I’ve saved, I can put it into something like slow food instead something quick or packaged…

    • Thanks so much for your feedback Grace. Have you tried It’s a great place to do the comparison that you’re mentioning and it’s highly interactive! I really like how inventive you are with allocating your online shopping time to allow you to save and spend it where it counts. Thanks again for taking the time to view and comment on the site 🙂

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