Is Online Shopping Better for the Environment Than Going to the Store?

By Robin Scher a freelance writer from South Africa currently based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @RobScherHimself. Originally published at Alternet

What’s greener, driving to the mall or having your products delivered to your doorstep?

Hooked on online shopping? It’s all right, you’re not alone. In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that second quarter online retail sales had risen by 15.8 percent from the previous year. Globally, these sales figures are said to be growing at a rate three times faster than GDP. And unfortunately, like many habits, there’s a potential downside.

The question is about sustainability.

Before focusing on the downsides, of which there are many, let’s first look at how online shopping can have a more positive impact on the environment.

When it comes to click-buying, convenience is king. In saving you a trip to the store, online shopping has the potential to reduce cars on the road. Less cars means less emissions, and with a good system in place, a greater efficiency in delivering goods to consumers direct from warehouses to their doors, cutting out the need to first distribute to stores.

“Larger vehicles are operated by fleet operators who pay attention to their bottom line,” said Gregory Shaver, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University. As Shaver notes, this means that fleets are designed to “efficiently move goods,” which “translates to less fuel use. With less fuel usage, there are less carbon dioxide emissions and less greenhouse gases,” he said.

That’s not to mention the efficiency that could come from reducing the need for brick-and-mortar stores. In general, stores use up a lot of resources, from energy (lights, air conditioning, etc.) to marketing gimmicks that entice you to buy certain products. Research conducted at Carnegie Mellon’s Green Design Institute found that opting to solely shop online would lead to a 35 percent reduction in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

As good as this result sounds, it comes with a big if—that is, if we were to assume that all shopping was done online. In reality, as Dan Sperling, the director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, explained to the New York Times, “shoppers appear to be ordering online while still driving to brick-and-mortar stores at least as much as in the past.”

Rather than replacing traditional stores, e-commerce is simply complementing them.

That same Times article cited a study that indicates e-commerce may in fact be contributing to a greater increase in greenhouse emissions. In particular, the study—conducted in Newark, Delaware—found that “various emissions” had increased by 20 percent from 2001 to 2011.

Ardeshi Faghri, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Delaware and a co-author of the study, pointed to the very same delivery trucks as one of the primary sources of the problem. “Online shopping has not helped the environment,” Faghri told the Times. “It has made it worse.”

The results of this study, published in the International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology, found that the reason for this situation came down to a knock-on effect that worsens traffic congestion. Utilizing data gathered by local transportation authorities, the authors were able to determine the effect that an increase in the amount of delivery trucks had on the roads. In general, they found a direct correlation between an increase in the amount of home shopping purchases and traffic delays, which by association leads to a greater amount of emissions.

Quoted in another article in the Guardian, Faghri offered a possible explanation for these findings. He suggested that “people are using the time they save by shopping on the internet to do other things like eating out at restaurants, going to the movies or visiting friends.”

Emissions aside, there’s another pertinent problem that comes with online purchases: packaging. In 2014, 35.4 million tons of containerboard were produced in the United States, with e-commerce companies, according to the New York Times, “among the fastest-growing users.” And that’s not even mentioning all the additional plastic cushioning, foam, bubble wrap and polystyrene/Styrofoam used to protect shipped goods.

Major online retailers like Amazon are aware of this issue. Since 2009, the popular e-commerce site has logged over 33 million responses to its “packaging feedback program.” So, what is Amazon doing about it? At least when it comes to cardboard, spokesman Craig Berman told the New York TImes, the company is reducing the size of its boxes to better fit its products, and in some cases, eliminating the need for additional packaging completely. But there’s still all that foam that gets used.

Don Fullerton, a professor of finance and an expert in economics and the environment at the University of Illinois, suggests one possible solution: Make retailers responsible for taking back their packaging. This, Fullterton argues, could create greater incentives for them to create better packaging solutions.

However, Betsy Steiner, executive director for the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers, disagrees with this solution. As she explained to the Gotham Gazette, the main issue with plastic packaging has to do with its weight. Due to the fact that foam and bubble wrap are so light, there is very little financial incentive from the recycling industry end, which makes its profit based on a per-ton basis output. Basically, once the foam is recycled, there’s no one willing to buy it. “That’s been the problem with plastics recycling globally,” said Steiner. “The raw material is so cheap you just get into the chicken-or-the-egg thing.”

If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s that dialogue is taking place. An article published earlier this month by the retail sector president of UPS, Greg Brown, asked, Can e-commerce and sustainability co-exist? For Brown, the onus largely falls on retailers. He offers four possible ways retailers can help make e-commerce sustainable:

  1. Optimize and reevaluate current supply chains by “identifying areas where service needs and environmental challenges converge, and exploring new ways to drive efficiencies and reduce impact.”
  2. “Tap the power of data by partnering with a logistics provider,” to better determine the wants and needs of your customers and “fine-tune supply chain movement.”
  3. Fuel collaboration, which involves “providing customers with a way to shift their delivery to a time and location that meets their needs, reduces the environmental impact and results in a better experience for everyone.”
  4. “Measure, manage, mitigate and market: Simply, companies must take the necessary steps to manage and reduce what they can and mitigate the remaining emissions. This, in turn, demonstrates company concern that goes beyond capturing immediate revenues. This type of positioning can help support the company’s reputation and offer a competitive advantage when driving consumer preference.”

As a consumer, there are also a number of ways you can do your part. Deutsche Welle recently suggested five easy steps to becoming a more eco-friendly online shopper.

  1. Don’t opt for next- or same-day delivery: Although this method might seem more efficient, it makes it harder for delivery firms to combine shipments to specific neighborhoods. In other words, more deliveries and more emissions.
  2. Always opt for the eco-friendly packaging option: Believe it or not, these options exist, and it’s worth the few extra dollars to know you’re making a small difference.
  3. Bulk buy at brick-and-mortar stores: If you have to make a trip to the shops, try limit the amount of times you go, buying in bulk when you do to avoid regular trips. In this case, using your car to buy in bulk beats making a smaller purchase online.
  4. Cycle/walk to the store: This should go without saying, but if you have to go to the store, especially for a few small items, avoid using your car.
  5. Avoid impulse buys: Ask yourself this simple question every time you want to click “add to cart”: Do I really need this?

If industry and consumers tackle the problem from either side, sustainable shopping might just become standard operating procedure, whether you’re clicking on a screen or getting behind the wheel.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Jeff N

    A certain big-box offers free “ship to store”, which would mean that your stuff will ride along with a truckload of other stuff to that store.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Doing that right now.

      Ordered an exterior light for my casa. Free shipping to the nearest Home Depot store, but I do have to pay AZ sales tax.

      1. Jeff N

        if you are honest, (at least here in IL) you are supposed to pay “use tax” on everything you didn’t pay sales tax on.

  2. craazyman

    How can you score hot chicks at the mall when you’re sitting aroound like a putz on line shopping?

    I guess there’s Tinder for that, but why window shop misleading made up photos when you can check it out in person, where you can check out the butt and the side view? OK, the arugment is “efficiency”. That’s plausible, but the antipode of efficiency is serendipity, which is a word I don’t particulrly like but it’s connotatively effective, efficient even, It’s connotatively efficient.

    When you try to plan everything so it’s “efficient” you lose as much as you gain. It’s like an equation that always has to balance.

    What a joke online shopping is. Unless it’s for something you have to go to a store for where there’s not hot women running aroound — like power tools for home repair jobs. That’s not bad for online shopping.

    1. Arizona Slim

      Here in Tucson, there’s a construction tools store that’s run and staffed by the Tool Ladies. They’re the gals who greet you at the counter, and, yes, they do know tools. Oh, do they ever.

      Great store, BTW.

  3. jrs

    “How can you score hot chicks at the mall when you’re sitting aroound like a putz on line shopping?”

    That might be a concern for the teenage crowd but for the rest of us, working jobs with long hours and long commutes, online shopping is a blessing, and it would be nice not to have to feel guilty about it destroying the environment or something. Yea life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone.

    1. craazyman

      OK OK you got me. I admit it.

      I live in New Yawk and ride the bus. For me 30 minutes is a LOOOONNNGGGGG commute. that’s when there’s a traffic jam.

    2. Elizabeth Burton

      Ditto for those of us for whom schlepping around from store to store and in the cavernous depths of today’s huge markets and stores is a physical impossibility. It’s possible to buy in bulk online, too, and if the rest of the shopping is done on the way home from work, is one not doing one’s part?

      Since I’m in the publishing industry, let’s consider one aspect of retailing that never gets mentioned in articles like this: returns. All that noble championing of independent bookstores against the ravages of Amazon ignores the fact that those stores usually refuse to stock a book if they can’t return it in a couple weeks or months for full credit. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks are usually remaindered for resale, but there is still the trip out to the bookstore then back to the warehouse then off to the remainder warehouse. As for mass market paperbacks, they have their covers ripped off and sent back for that credit and the rest sent to the landfill. It’s illegal to even give the stripped copies away.

      Yet major publishers brag about being “green” because the paper they print on is certified. And moan about Amazon “killing independent bookstores” (which, btw, have been on the increase since ’09). That’s not to say Amazon won’t send back an unsold book that’s been gathering dust for ten or twelve years, but that’s a big difference from the 3-6 weeks that’s standard shelf life in an indie.


    There’s also the “Amazon showroom” phenomenon: People drive to the brick-and-mortar store to browse, compare items side-by-side in the flesh, and then when they’ve decided which one they want they go home and order it off Amazon. Creates the environmental waste of both the trip to the store and the online order.

    1. cojo

      I do this, look up the price online and then ask for a price match. Most stores will match if it’s from a reputable website. Much better for the environment too!

  5. Knot Galt

    A massive hidden expense in Carbon is the running and maintaining of Data Centers, or “clouds”. Considering how everything depends upon ad revenue, which links to Retail, I would think a percentage of the “cost” of data Centers needs to be added to the overall carbon costs of online shopping.

    Any methodology is going to require energy. For “things” to get better, the source of the energy needs to be cleaner. Delivery trucks, Data Centers, and Factories would help the environment out in a big way if they all started using renewable energy to power their buildings and factories. For starters, UPS, Fed EX, and The US Postal Service should all be using electric vehicles. We could start by having our DoD manufacturing switch from making ‘tanks’ to making ‘transport’.

    1. nonsense factory

      Exactly; Power the stores and warehouses with renewable energy, use electric vehicles for delivery as well as personal transport, and it doesn’t matter whether you shop online or in person.

    2. oh

      I can imagine a DOD spec’d electric vehicle that would look like a hummer with an electric motor that would run out of juice in 1 hour or 10 miles, whichever comes first. Let’s divert the DOD budget to an agency that can get a bang for the buck (not bomb like bang), if there’s one. No DOE or GSA or such agency!

  6. Barmitt O'Bamney

    After you have committed to the consumerist lifestyle of shopping shopping shopping, it matters little or not at all whether you go get it yourself or have it delivered to your doorstep by diesel van or electric drone.
    It’s all the crap you’re buying that is destroying the Earth. Last mile transport is just icing on the crap cake. If having it all delivered to you saved any resources, most likely you would negate that savings by using the extra time you have to consume more crap. Only 319 more days left on the calendar until Xmas 2017, so you better get shopping Consumers!

    1. dragoonspires

      Ah, the age old conundrum. Let’s say we cut down by half on purchases of goods (I’m one of those types).
      Where do all those jobs lost from lower demand reappear? Will there be enough service jobs or others to replace them?

      1. human

        And this segues to the questions, “What is a job?”, “Why is a job that compensates for time and labor in monetary units necessary?”, “Why does someone who sits on his ass and bosses 100,000 humans to be productive paid $10,000,000 while the one fulfilling those demands, and actually doing the work, paid $10,000?” …

        One large reason for the Wars on Drugs, Terror, Healthcare, Education is to keep us proles occupied. Otherwise, we have a) free time to ponder the meaning of life and wonder out loud, “What is the purpose of these parasites I am forced to give money to/for” or b) those of a less empathetic nature, and unable to contemplate alternatives, are out of doing the “work” of/as authoritarians.

      2. different clue

        If one bought half as many things, and the things were twice as good and lasted twice as long, and costed twice as much . . . . and involved twice as much hand-labor per thing to make; then buying half-as-many shinola things instead of twice as many shit things might not reduce employment at all. It might even increase it.

    2. james wordsworth

      Exactly. Stop buying crap. If you rent a storage space you bought too much crap. If your car can’t fit in your garage, you bought too much crap. It’s really simple…stop buying crap. Life is a whole lot simpler, and relaxing without working to accumulate then store then throw away crap. We should all be working two day weeks by now given how far robotics and science have come, but no people keep buying crap and needing more money to buy more crap. STOP IT! and save the earth and your sanity.
      P.S. Online shopping, drive throughs, credit cards, are all designed to make you buy more, and make it easier to pay. Don’t fall for it.

  7. Fec

    Our online effort supplements our brick and mortar store by also giving locals the opp to browse thousands of items before coming in and trying things on. We’re also able to reach out to customers much too far away to visit. In that aspect, freight delivery creates traffic which would not otherwise occur.

  8. lyman alpha blob

    Ugh. Online shopping is not new – it’s the same as ordering from a catalog which has been going on forever except now all the catalogs are conveniently on your computer.

    As to whether it’s better for the environment, I would say it depends on whether people are ordering 50 items at once as they do when they do a week’s worth of grocery shopping, or if they are placing 50 separate orders throughout the week.

    One thing not taken into account is how much energy is used to power and cool the servers used to track and save the ordering history of everyone on the earth forever so they can then market more crap back at us, as is being done now. My guess is that it’s quite substantial.

    As to the 5 suggestions at the end, making do with less cheap crap does not seem to be one of the options. We all seem to forget the ‘reduce’ part of ‘reduce reuse recycle’.

    All that, plus I like Main Street a lot more than lining Bezos’ pockets. I get to see actual people and make friends there.

    1. Livius Drusus

      I have been telling people for years that I don’t find Amazon or any of these other online shopping companies to be “amazing” precisely because of catalogs. I remember ordering stuff I couldn’t find in a regular store via catalog. I always laugh when people describe the pre-Internet era as some stone age. That concept is pushed as part of the propaganda that Silicon Valley has developed in order to convince people that they are our saviors and that we must bow to their demands. A big part of that propaganda campaign is depicting the pre-Internet past as something at best uncool and at worst barbaric and primitive.

      I also prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores. I enjoy getting out and seeing people and I like being able to see and touch what I want to buy. I only shop online when the product is something I cannot find at a local store, which is pretty rare.

      1. RMO

        One difference I can find that widespread availability of the internet has made compared to catalog shopping is that it seems to have made it easier for me to find obscure items and buy them from small companies. I’ve found some hard to find old books on soaring by using Alibris to connect with tiny bookshops for example. Nice I admit, but hardly an earth shaking innovative, smart disruptive paradigm shift (I hope I got enough B.S. terms and catchphrases in there :-)

        1. Stephanie

          I have found Etsy useful in the same way, in that I am able to buy directly from makers & can cut out the intermediary. In the past this role would have been occupied by craft fairs at malls and neighborhood festival vendors, but Etsy is available year-round and there are more useful items available than at the same three tie-dye t-shirt/personalized routed-wood sign/rosmaling booths I could find locally.

      2. different clue

        Your comment brings to mind something I once read somewhere. A lot of the “digitized” technologies we have nowadays still have an analog core . . . the parts and systems that perform the work . . . and a digital add-on that controls the techno-item and prevents the owner/user from controlling it directly herm’s own self. A lot of our machines and systems are like analog lake trout with digital sea lampreys attached. Silicon Lamprey has figured out how to attach itself to many lake trouts.

        An example of that in my own life is my home-heating-system thermostat. For years I had an analog bi-metallic thermostat. It consumed no energy of its own and it hard too few parts to ever break. Then our co-op replaced all the bi-metallic-strip thermostats with digital thermostats. It doesn’t do anything the analog thermostat didn’t do, and it runs on batteries which have run out twice and needed replacement twice. It is pretty bad when that happens when it is zero degrees outside.

        There are exceptions of course. You just can’t blog or otherwise compute without a computer.

  9. susan the other

    Did anybody else see the clip on MHz last night about Pee Power? Yes, your urine can be used in batteries containing a certain kind of bacteria to directly extract electrons and immediately power your house or car or business. I think it’s a UK invention.

  10. Kokuanani

    How about the problem that your “on-line shopping” means patronizing devils like Walmart and Amazon?

    I’d rather pay more, drive and starve these evil folks.

    1. Dirk77

      6) Don’t buy at all and save 100%, not even including the environment.

      7) Buy used, preferably local. No factory emissions, chemicals or slave labor.

  11. Dave

    This sounds like more corporate and financial green-tinged bullshit.

    I believe in the benefits of the multiplier effect of money spent locally. A dollar spent locally recirculates many times and provides local wealth.

    Sending your money out of town to an Amazon or spending at a Kohl’s means the money is gone, except for a few local scurrying footmen crumbs or minimum wage hourly servants. That money, were it spent in locally owned Main Street businesses would provide many more jobs, local profits, wages and stability.

    Local spending is democratic and productive.
    Treating money like an exportable commodity is cash colonialism.

    Are colonies better for the environment than democracies?

    1. Dave

      I wondered about actual numbers of the Multiplier Effect.
      Found this graphics rich site which describes local big box retailers in towns.
      Far worse when you look at the infinitesimal contribution to local economies for Amazon drivers:

      “The private research firm Civic Economics has executed the bulk of studies attempting to quantify the difference in local economic return between local independents and chain businesses. Their first such study (pdf), for the city of Austin, Texas showed an independent bookseller (Book People) and music seller (Waterloo Records) returned more than three times as much money to the local economy as a proposed Borders Books and Music outlet would….On average, 48 percent of each purchase at local independent businesses was recirculated locally, compared to less than 14 percent of purchases at chain stores.”

      Another thing totally removing money from local communities is the hundreds of billions remitted by immigrants, legal and otherwise, to their home countries.

    2. different clue

      This goes to show that money should be viewed as a medium of exchange rather than just a “store” of “value”. What is the “value” that money even “stores”? The ability to use it to mediate an exchange of something real for something real at some point.

      Local exchanges mediated locally by money spent locally by local people allow the “same” piece of money to mediate several-to-many exchanges between various makers and doers before it is finally sucked up the class ladder to some distant OverClass destination.

  12. PeonInChief

    In California sales tax money goes to the community where the product is delivered. So if the best shopping is one county over in a richer, whiter community, you do your local government a great favor by ordering online, even if you’ve gone to the mall to check out the goods.

  13. McWatt

    Amazon is the new Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart killed all the small mom and pop business in middle America
    and Amazon is destroying retail in the cities. Can’t tell you how shocking it is to see so many small businesses go under here in the Chicago area. If you don’t shop local all you’ll have left is Amazon. It’s even killing the mega-chains like Macy’s and Nordstrom’s. All as the result of people flocking to a megalomaniac. Sam Walton, Ray Kroc…the list goes on and on and on and on. Can’t wait to see my kid’s friends working at the new Amazon distribution center that is competing with the Post Office, UPS, Fed Ex, etc. etc. all fighting to deliver to the same block. So instead of one truck delivering there are 5 or 6. Every day. Day in, day out. No it’s not sustainable and the planet is suffering.

    1. dragoonspires

      Maybe more local stores should build presence as third parties on Amazon if they can’t make it as local retail and compete on price. I prefer local shopping too, but often can’t find what I need at the brick and mortar store, so I have to search Amazon. It’s usually there. I will bu y from local third party storefront on Amazon as preference if price is competitive there.

      1. Fiery Hunt

        And that’s why you can’t find what you’re looking for at the local brick and mortar store.

        I’ve spent large chunks of the last couple of days trying to find a pair of Dr. Martens boots…even places that say online that they have them …like Nordstrom’s!…actually did not have them in store. (and yes, the dissonance of trying to buy basic working class/punk black leather boots at that elitist corporation was not lost on me!) But I could order them online, the store clerk said, thereby endangering his own job.
        Talk about a slippery slope…

    2. rps

      Fortunately, I live in a large city with many options other than Wal-Mart. Its impact on Mom and Pop stores and the hollowing out of small town America is part of the storyline. Metaphorically speaking, it’s a tale of the snake swallowing its tail that has effectively set the balling rolling for Wal-Mart’s business strategy. Wal-Mart shoppers demand for lower prices, are equally responsible for the death knell of their jobs and communities. How often do we brag about paying less….it was a steal! In a sense, the true theft is the loss of American jobs and manufacturing.

      The Wal-Mart business model had differentiated itself from the original box stores. Its hard ball tactics with over 21000 suppliers is the American story we are circuitously living today. Wal-Mart suppliers rejoice winning a contract, however, the cut-throat demand for “everyday low prices” cuts into the suppliers profits. To maximize profits, suppliers looked at payroll and determined American labor was too expensive. Thus ending the American dream from “made in America,” and accelerated “made in China” anywhere but here.

      Without a doubt, Walmart’s squeeze on the suppliers profits was a prominent catalyst for off-shoring production. Their effective walk-away-strategy from negotiations and dumping suppliers, in turn, produced a causal reaction of either going out of business/ bankruptcy, or offshoring their manufacturing for cheaper laborer costs.

      Today, I don’t think Wal-Mart is necessarily a convenience that meets customers needs but the only brick and mortar store within a 50 mile radius. IMO, brick and mortar retail is an antiquated business model. Its easier to price compare and order online. Amazon doesn’t have the lowest prices on every item but will meet it if you find a lower price. Even Wal-Mart is modernizing its distribution centers for 2 day deliveries and has invested over $1 billion in its e-commerce operations.

      Frankly, Amazon and Wal-Mart business models didn’t appear out of thin air. It began with Americans demanding instantaneous gratification; I want it ‘right here right now’ attitude.

      Simply, its a race to the bottom with our demand first for the cheapest price and then delivery to the door now.

    3. readerOfTeaLeaves

      Amazon solves problems for many people, and now in my area (Puget Sound region), they are doubling up delivery service with our locally owned Bartell’s Drugs. IOW, a month ago when I was flattened by flu, I could have ordered chicken soup from AMZN + meds from Bartell’s and have them both arrive in the same delivery.

      Obviously, there is a huge extra layer of security for anyone moving any med over and above Advil, but still, it’s a great concept. I was too sick to get to the shop; everyone in my household was too sick to get to the shops, and they didn’t need our coughs and fevers. I expect more of this in the future.

      And FWIW, I would never, ever combine Macys, Sears, and Penney’s into the same group with Nordstrom.

      Nordstrom has a terrific corporate culture, from what I can tell. They are famous for having any family members who go into the business start on the floor, so they understand the business ‘from the bottom up’.

      Having known people who have worked for all those stores, the Nordy’s employees have had far more opportunities, and that company was quick to develop both outlets (the Rack), as well as online options.

      They are all retailers, but as near as I can tell, Macy’s is what’s left after too much M&A activity in the 90s, and Sears is just sad at this point. Too depressing to even walk through.

  14. marcyincny

    “Ask yourself this simple question every time you want to click “add to cart”: Do I really need this?”

    …should be tip #1…

  15. MtnLife

    I think this issue has very different impacts when looked at geographically. Urban and suburban consumers would most likely have less impact shopping locally due to economies of scale, higher levels of product diversity and specialization, high(er) population densities, and lower levels of energy input per trip (possibly even using public transportation) to the brick and mortar locations. Rural consumers tend to have few local product options and high inherent energy cost to visit stores. It makes more sense to send a delivery service van on a circuitous rural route than to have even a fraction of that population making long daily trips. Many high quality, specialized tools and equipment just don’t have the consumer base to support them being carried in more than a few locations nationwide.

    1. lyle

      As suggested it depends on the size of the town you live in. I live in a county of 40k people and execpt for groceries buy everything on line. More and more deliveries are made by the USPS which means the net energy use for the deliver is very small since the USPS goes by every mailbox every day anyway for junk mail. Otherwise it would be a 60 mile one way drive to get to the big city. (My parents when alive tended to go to the big city once a week in the 1990s for example)

  16. John k

    Early stage, growth in online will not be 3x GDP growth forever. We will have fewer malls pretty soon, particularly in mid class. Need to compare after reaching steady state…
    Not that it matters.
    I’d drones work would be low energy.
    Plus maybe fossil not much used in 50 years, solar and storage Econ changing fast.
    Can musk do cars at 30k? Today’s calcs not dependable.

  17. vegeholic

    If you want to practice sustainable commerce, just copy the way things worked in the 1800’s. Horses, carts, bicycles, boats, walking, local shops. All of our high tech wizardry requires massive and continuous infusions of cheap fossil fuel energy. The cheap energy is going away and all of the things that it enabled are going away. It is not a mystery.

    1. pretzelattack

      according to something i read the other day, horse manure was piled 7 feet deep on wall street back in the 1880’s or so.

      1. Lyle

        Note the automobile in the 1910s was regarded as a great solution to the problem of horse manure and the stink of the city. Anyway with local shops you still need deliveries to the shops.

  18. Michael

    My bitch is with the drivers who think any speed is OK to drive to complete their deliveries. And they don’t accelerate in a fuel efficient manner either.

    1. ChiGal in Carolina

      because they are electronically monitored and how quickly they complete their rounds affects their performance evaluation. i have heard they put their own lives at risk by not wearing seat belts in order to save the time it takes to put them on.

      i used to shop at Amazon but have never shopped at Wal-Mart and now avoid both, it’s easy living in a big city (Chicago) or a college town (Chapel Hill). I can imagine it would be hard living in a rural area though.

  19. Joel

    “shop misleading made up photos when you can check it out in person, where you can check out the butt and the side view?”

    Asking the monitors to ut off crazyman. He, no doubt a he as in misogynistic jerk, could embarrasse himsielf fomewhere else..

    Sorry for the spelling, it’s the computer’s fault.

    1. FreeMarketApologist

      I enjoy ‘in person’ shopping for the same reason as craazyman: the “people watching”. My motives may be base, but the guys are more real in the aisles than online.

    2. ChiGal in Carolina

      lol he is harmless i think. but that link of his was pretty awful. an obese black woman shopping at WalMart – hahaha, really funny! so she doesn’t fit HIS standard of beauty, but do you think she cares?

      in the hood they like them “big-legged” women…

  20. kareninca

    My dog gets to attack and rip open all of our Amazon deliveries. A certain percentage of the time they contain a cheap squeaky toy for her; when a package drops outside the door she goes berserk with 52 pounds of Golden retriever German Shepherd mix joy. This doesn’t always end well. Yesterday our neighbor’s box were set by our door by mistake. It turns out that she buys much fancier vitamins than I do.

    1. Lyle

      You must not have a cluster mail box with a package locker. in that case the package in general goes into the locker and the key is placed into your regular mailbox. Note that more and more amazon is using the post office for the last mile of delivery and running the transport to the post office itself. (Note Amazon now has sorting centers which take packages from various warehouses and resort them for delivery to post offices. Amazon also apparently now has its own airline. Fed Ex is offering now to do fullfillment for small merchants i.e. the merchant ships inventory to FedEx, they pack and ship the orders for the merchant, just like fulfilled by Amazon does.

  21. marieann

    My first comment on this site.
    Can we just stop buying stuff… much junk do we need that we have to debate the environmental impact of shopping. Just stop. If we really must shop go to a thrift store, not only local but usually helping out a charity.
    The more we shop the more we have to throw away…..and there is no away.

  22. DJG

    I think that this paragraph in the post epitomizes the environmental problem:
    “Betsy Steiner, executive director for the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers, disagrees with this solution. As she explained to the Gotham Gazette, the main issue with plastic packaging has to do with its weight. Due to the fact that foam and bubble wrap are so light, there is very little financial incentive from the recycling industry end, which makes its profit based on a per-ton basis output. Basically, once the foam is recycled, there’s no one willing to buy it. “That’s been the problem with plastics recycling globally,” said Steiner. “The raw material is so cheap you just get into the chicken-or-the-egg thing.””

    So La Steiner, of the chicken-or-egg philosphy of pollution, just doesn’t care. And that’s my impression of most of the Amazon Prime addicts in my neighborhood.

    Like Livius Drusus, I agree that you have to go out and actually touch the things you are looking for, talk to sales people, and deal with other denizens of your neighborhood. Americans are isolated enough (by self-service, for instance). Now you have people at home stockpiling who knows what.

    McWatt mentions massive closings around Chicago: Even a local business like the Swedish Bakery, which just announced its closing and shocked the neighborhood, had an Internet ordering system. But there was no one in the next generation who wanted to take over. Easier to work at Aetna, denying benefits to grandmothers across America, I suppose, than getting up early to make the limpa.

    1. oho

      >Even a local business like the Swedish Bakery, which just announced its closing and shocked the neighborhood, ….But there was no one in the next generation who wanted to take over.

      expensive street meter parking. Changing demographics—no Swedes left in Andersonville or at Swedish Covenant Hospital.

      and they didn’t sell $5 cutesy cupcakes—-just ‘boring’, traditional, unsexy, non-cosmopolitan Swedish blue collar fare.

      i imagine health care costs were an issue as well—-something best left unsaid when your many of the clientele are likely stalwart Team Dem.

    2. ChiGal in Carolina

      omg that IS shocking news – the Swedish bakery!!! what a shame.

      still, it’s been happening forever: in Hyde Park not sure when but well before the 2007 implosion, a fab local bar I had been going to since the 70s, the Tiki, suffered the same fate. the owner died or moved and no one in the family wanted to keep it up. It was an institution cuz it stayed open very late (maybe 4am?) and had a GREAT juke box with old jazz and r&b classics. Plus there was the blowfish lighting, of course.

  23. Steely Glint

    I would say the ecological damage is most pronounced in global shipping. From a link through Water Cooler, I noticed that that for a large cargo carrier going 15 knots, the carrier burns 8,000 to 8,200 tons of fuel per day. It takes 10 days to get cargo from east Asia to west U.S. ports, and 30 days to get cargo from Asian ports to European ports, this is not to mention the shipping through the U.S. by truck or train. Even Bloomberg noticed the ecological damage, but being Bloomberg, their remedy was polishing ship propellers, or slowing down. That fleece blanket with material produced in the U.S. transported to China for sewing, then transported back to the U.S. is only one example among many.

  24. bkrasting


    – Walmart has annual sales of $450B. Wall Street says WMT is worth$210B.

    – Amazon has annual sale of only $150B. Wall Street set the value AMZ at $389B today.

    So Amazon has 1/3 the sales of WMT, and its stock value (market cap) is almost double. Why?

    The stock valuations tell the story. Bricks and mortar are in the rear view mirror, on-line is the future. Follow the money….

    1. cnchal


      Bernie Sanders: The business of Wall Street is fraud and greed.

      About Amazon. Haven’t we heard recently that they want to run trucks and ships themselves? What’s next? Amazon buys mining equipment manufacturer as the next step in becoming a vertically integrated company, owning all from the mine to front door?

  25. GERMO

    Missing external to this line of investigation is crapification — more and more items are really available on line only. Basically if it isn’t something that most people buy frequently, it isn’t going to be on a shelf somewhere to look over and evaluate. You are looking at a picture. When the item gets to you it turns out to be total crap. Or even totally useless. This is waste that isn’t usually factored in but it is becoming more common in my life and work.

  26. Lyle

    Note the answer to the question depends on the rural suburban or urban nature of where a person lives. Second is the final delivery by the USPS? If so the energy cost is really just the additional cost of carrying the package in the truck since the USPS needs to stop at every mailbox to handle the Junk mail.
    Amazon can now be used for buying things like detergent, toilet paper spices and lots of canned goods. (Basically non perishable food)
    In one sense for a person in a rural area, amazon is a vastly larger version of the old Sears Big Book before Sears began building stores in big cities. (1930s)

  27. ckimball

    We have a shop on an island that caters to the needs of our local population. We (my daughter and I began our “experiment” more than eighteen years ago. I can’t stand to count the years for real. It turns out we now know we are lucky to have our store. We have the privilege of creating our own working
    environment and of learning through our customers responses. We also experience the magic of the
    flow of human energy by seeing the people come in unintentionally meet each other engage in
    conversation and then leave. They share opinions, stories, information. Sometimes they know each
    other. Lots of times they don’t. We fancy it a market place of old. People come to purchase gifts for
    their loved ones. The children come to make little purchases. We see them make distinctions and
    learn to make choices. I can’t begin to tell you the richness we experience. Our customers bring
    their families and friends when they come to visit. People come to the island from all parts of our
    country and all over the world and we gain knowledge through them.
    We do not purchase for our store on line unless we know very well what we are buying. For instance, we go to shows to purchase clothing. Color and fabrics do not reveal themselves accurately on line. When
    people shop on line for clothing they cannot know the fit. We do not believe there is an equivalent
    to first hand experience. We want our customers to enjoy whatever they purchase from us for a long time.
    I think there is a compelling component to internet shopping that is different. The looking is endless
    and one item can expand to countless items to explore. The acts of pursuing and comparing many
    items lead to choosing and then wanting. It seems to me that something is degraded when the act of pursuing the cheap price is the all important desire or goal. I would prefer the idea of reasonable. A while ago a couple of people came into the store holding their cell phones obviously price checking. They felt so separate from whatever was happening and us. They didn’t seem to notice what was around them only the price. Aren’t there some things we should want to pay for?
    Do we make a lot of money? No. Do we make a profit? Not so much. Do we pay our bills? Yes so far.
    Do we live in beauty? Yes. It is gorgeous here. Are we swimming up stream? Yes, of course.
    I might have lost my way here but I wanted to add something to the analysis. How about
    the idea that there is more going on with all this compulsive shopping and discarding. Maybe if people have a good experience and purchase something that really works for them
    they may be less compelled to online shop or shop as a past time.

  28. Ignacio

    According to a recent speech I attended from a Renault professional transport accounts for about 17% of total CO2 emissions. The energy print of the goods you buy, including raw materials, processing, energy expenses during the life of the good and disposal (everything except the transport) accounts for most of it.

    So, the most important thing to decide is: do I really need it? Avoiding impulse buys should be the first and most important advice. I would put it differently: think twice what needs your buy will meet and avoid false needs or dumb needs.

Comments are closed.