Online shopping environmental impact

How to Shop Online Mindfully to Reduce Environmental Impact

Online shopping environmental impact

Online shopping is a convenient and popular alternative to the traditional brick-and-mortar retail experience. You can purchase anything with just a click of a button, from electronics to groceries to furniture. Like many modern conveniences, online shopping has hidden costs — especially to the environment. Consumers must shop mindfully to reduce waste and their carbon footprint. Here are steps you can take to shop online with lower environmental impact:

1. Research the Company’s Sustainability Practices

Not all online retailers have the same commitment to the environment, even if surveys show 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands. Before purchasing, take the time to research a company’s sustainability initiatives and buy from brands using eco-friendly packaging, renewable energy and responsible sourcing practices. 

For example, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, is known for its strong commitment to sustainability. It uses recycled materials, promotes fair labor practices and donates a percentage of profits to environmental causes. Microsoft pledged to be carbon-negative by 2030, investing millions in reforestation and renewable energy projects. 

2. Consolidate Orders

Consolidate your online shopping rather than making several small purchases. For example, Amazon offers the “Amazon Day” feature which allows customers to choose a specific day for all their deliveries to reduce the number of shipments. 

Researchers found consolidating deliveries to nine packages per vehicle will require a 30% increase in fleet size, while a consolidation of eight packages per vehicle will require a 50% increase. This demonstrates how small steps can translate to big environmental impacts. Moreover, consolidated shipping often translates to less packaging waste. 

3. Opt for Eco-Friendly Packaging

If given an option, choose minimal and recyclable packaging. Some companies may offer a green shipping option, which ensures items are packed in an environmentally friendly way in an effort to reduce carbon impacts and minimize waste

Watch out for greenwashing or any promotion pushing eco-friendliness on the surface, but is just as damaging as regular options. For example, a company may offer green shipping, but use poorly recycled packaging that easily breaks or contributes to water pollution.

4. Reduce the Need for Returns

Sending items back has a significant environmental impact because of the back-and-forth shipping and the possibility the returned item will not be resold. To mitigate this, carefully read product descriptions and reviews, check sizing charts and contact customer service with questions before purchasing. 

Support businesses that enhance the shopping experience through detailed product descriptions, multiple images and customer reviews. These features help buyers make informed choices, reducing the need for returns. 

Returns of online purchases can produce more than 5 billion pounds of landfill waste and 15 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually. Instead of returning, consider re-gifting or donating the item to those in need. 

5. Patience Pays Off

If you don’t need an item immediately, choose slower shipping methods. Fast shipping requires separate transportation routes, which means more vehicles, trips and emissions.

A University of Washington study estimated free two-day shipping, as offered by Amazon Prime, can increase emissions. Customers who wait up to five days could help decrease carbon dioxide emissions by about 30% in the last mile of delivery. Because of this, the company now offers “No Rush Shipping,” where customers can choose slower shipping in exchange for rewards or discounts. 

Furthermore, buyers must consider when they need to upgrade their gadgets instead of just going with the trend. People’s insatiable appetite for the latest tech has increased e-waste exponentially. About 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste was generated globally in 2019, an increase of 21% in five years. 

6. Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

The most mindful approach to shopping for high-use items, like clothes and appliances, involves buying fewer, higher-quality items that will last longer than cheaper versions. This minimalistic approach reduces consumption, as well as the associated environmental costs of production and shipping. 

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates the fashion industry produces 53 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually, partly due to fast fashion’s low-quality products. 

Pledge to Lessen Consumption

While online shopping offers unparalleled convenience, it is important to recognize the environmental impact it can have. Being a mindful consumer and making deliberate, eco-conscious choices lets you enjoy the benefits of online shopping, while taking steps to protect the planet. The future of e-commerce and the environment depends on collective, conscious efforts from businesses and consumers.

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