We live in a world where it’s feasible that you can order something online right now and get it delivered tomorrow. Our lives move fast and online shopping has worked hard to cater to instant gratification, making it easier to get exactly what you want when you want it with a few clicks of a button, and occasionally some extra cash.
But is shopping online sustainable or are we hurting our environment?
Is online shopping bad for the environment?
When it comes down to it, whether or not shopping online is bad for the environment depends on what kind of shopper you are. According to GreenStory, online shopping is better for the environment—but there are some very non-eco friendly practices that might render it not so positive.
Online-only retailers tend to have a smaller impact on the environment overall in theory, simply because they have no retail space to power. But unsustainable practices like express shipping, more frequent returns (30 percent online, compared to 6 to 8 percent to physical retailers), the additional packaging required, large warehouses to hold all of their goods that consumers expect in stock, and the increased number of transactions per customer can offset that quickly.
How to shop more sustainably online
Just because some online retailers adhere to less sustainable practices doesn’t mean you have to as well. If you’re looking to make a positive impact with your online shopping habits, here is what you should keep in mind:
Make fewer purchases
Shopping less frequently doesn’t mean buying less, it means fewer individual boxes and delivery trips for the packages to get to you—and that means more green shopping practices.
Everytime you make a purchase, those items need to be packaged (think paper, plastic, and boxes), loaded up into a delivery truck (or something bigger like a plane, train, or cargo ship, depending on where it’s coming from), and make its way to you.
While it’s hard for most of us to avoid online shopping altogether, especially with COVID-19 (and to be clear no one’s saying you should), you can absolutely make fewer purchases in total and still get all of the goods you need.
Choose slower shipping times
Online shopping has a lot to do with convenience, but that doesn’t mean that everything you purchase has to get to you right away. Getting items shipped express to you often involves heavy carbon shipping methods like airplane rides.
The most eco friendly way to get an item shipped to you, tends to be the slowest option. Due to the fact that they essentially “come when they come” they most often involve the least carbon emissions (though that’s not to say their impact is non-existent).
It’s really tempting to take Amazon up on their offer for two-day shipping with Prime, but this method of immediate delivery comes at considerable cost to the environment—especially when so many people use the service.
Shopping locally not only helps to support the local economy, but it’s also the sustainable choice—even in the world of online shopping. Shorter distances typically mean fewer carbon emissions, so shopping at online outlets that are physically closer to you is the best option.
Even making purchases within Canada is better than doing so internationally. When you purchase from a home-grown company (one that’s actually based in Canada, preferably one that makes their goods in Canada) there is a shorter distance your purchase needs to travel to get to you. Plus, it’s more likely that carbon friendlier travel options are used.
Shopping online at a local store and choosing curbside pick-up (when available) is also a sustainable option. While chances are you still use carbon emissions to get there, there’s no need for the additional shipping packaging and larger, more carbon-heavy types of transport are not needed.
Opt for ethical or sustainable products
If you’re shopping online you can’t necessarily get rid of your carbon footprint, but you can offset it a bit by opting for ethical and sustainable products. KOTN, TenTree, and Etee are great examples of Canadian retailers that focus on providing sustainable products for their shoppers.
Purchasing sustainable products can often reduce your carbon footprint because their manufacturers tend to opt for more sustainable practices. Ethical products provide a better life for those living in poverty or who are often exploited, plus they are often of higher quality.
While there is a cost associated with making ethical or sustainable purchases, the increased quality could mean you have to purchase less or could save you money in the long run.
Secondhand shopping is a big topic in the discussion on sustainable clothes shopping habits. If you’re looking to be more environmentally friendly with your online clothes shopping methods, secondhand purchases should be a consideration.
Similar to how fast food can provide instant gratification in the culinary world, fast fashion is focused on producing mass amounts of clothes based on popular looks using low-cost methods and low-quality products. As one might expect, a large number of these low-quality products make their way to trash cans and landfills, causing a big problem.
However, online retailers like Poshmark (where users can sell their own products) or Ready to Wear Again (a Canadian consignment store) are examples of places where you can breathe a second life into clothing and avoid low-quality fast fashion purchases.
Making the transition to green online shopping
The transition to more green online shopping practices isn’t necessarily going to happen overnight, but it’s important that we each play our part to make the world a better place.
If you’re dedicated to making more green decisions in your life, download the GarbageDay app to get tips and tricks delivered to you.