Is Online Shopping Bad for the Planet?

Q: How much do I need to worry about the impact of my online shopping?

The convenience of online shopping is hard to beat. But it uses a lot of energy and resources and can lead to more waste.

Transportation needed for online shopping spews greenhouse emissions. Three billion trees are cut down every year to produce packaging for all kinds of things, e-commerce included, according to some estimates. The data centers needed to store and retrieve orders consume about 10 times the amount of energy of a typical home and gulp precious groundwater for cooling.

Sounds bad, right? Read on.

Online shopping isn’t always the worst choice. Efficiency is a big factor.

Think of it like this: A single truck delivering orders to several homes could be less of a drain on the environment than several shoppers hopping in cars to drive to stores. That’s especially true if people group their purchases into less-frequent deliveries.

One study from M.I.T. even found that online shopping could be more sustainable than traditional shopping in more than 75 percent of scenarios that researchers came up with. Those scenarios imagined things like an online shopping experience with all-electric shipping and reduced packaging.

Online retailers and delivery companies have been trying to make online shopping more climate friendly. Some have embraced electric vehicles.

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