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Sit, Click, and Deliver Featured on Mar 30, 2009
Are you planning to drive to the store? Grab your mouse instead, and make the purchase online.
Shifting one purchase to online and avoiding a car trip to the store will reduce your CO2 emissions by 7.4 lbs.
3062 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 11.33 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 14 homes for about 1 month!
IN COLLABORATION WITH
Maybe it’s not shopping itself that makes me nervous. Maybe it’s parking lots. I don’t have my wife’s parking karma. She can go to a crowded mall on Black Friday and always find the one available parking space, conveniently located near a door and someone giving out free ice cream samples. I, on the other hand, can circle without success for half an hour on a normal Tuesday afternoon. (It could, of course, be genetic. There was that time my mother completely lost her car when she went outlet shopping and had to spend the afternoon looking through remaindered cookbooks until her car miraculously reappeared.) Give up the circling and make more of my purchases online? It’s an easy decision.
The Carbon Connection
Online shopping as a green practice is not a slam dunk. There is an ongoing debate over the environmental benefits of online shopping. But we’ve looked at the numbers, tried to break down all of the various factors involved, including long distance and local transportation, your car versus a delivery truck, the use of boxes and foam peanuts, the costs of lighting and heating a store versus a warehouse, etc. And, while the math is complicated, we’ve come to the conclusion that online shopping makes sense.
How does ordering something online and having it delivered to your house save energy and carbon? Think of it as carpooling for packages. The item you order isn’t taking its own limo to your door. More often than not, your package is on the same truck with a hundred other packages, all being delivered to people who live near you. The cost of the gasoline burned to drive the delivery truck and the amount of carbon dioxide released is therefore shared by all of those packages. The more packages sharing the delivery route (your normal daily US mail delivery, for example), the greater the savings.
When you don’t drive to the mall, you’re saving time, gasoline, money, and carbon. Close to 30% of the greenhouse gases released in the United States come from transportation. The average car releases 19.4 pounds of CO2 into Earth’s atmosphere for each gallon of gasoline it burns. That means an average shopping trip of 7.5 miles is responsible for releasing over 6 pounds of CO2 into the air. The less gasoline we burn, the better it is for our atmosphere.
And those big delivery trucks aren’t the gas guzzlers they once were. Both UPS and the US Postal Service have been revamping their truck fleets, replacing older trucks that burn diesel with newer hybrid or all-electric vehicles. Delivery services save time and money by planning the most efficient routes and carrying the most packages on the fewest trucks. So, it is in their best interest for your package to travel as efficiently from Point A to your door as possible.
Of course, if you live close enough to stores and can walk, bike or subway there to do your shopping, that’s preferable. But if you don’t, or if the item you want to buy is too big to carry home, consider taking this Challenge.
Getting It Done
Over 30 percent of holiday gift shopping was done online in 2008. And in a survey of some 9,000 holiday shoppers, the online shoppers rated their experience significantly more satisfactory than did the folks who shopped offline in malls and box stores . Online shopping is working for many people. If you haven’t tried it, we’re challenging you to skip a trip to the mall and try buying something online. (And just between us, don’t you get a funny, “It’s my birthday!” rush when the package you’re expecting finally arrives at your door? It feels like you’re getting a present!)
Here are a few simple suggestions to make this Challenge work for you:
- Online shopping isn’t perfect for every item you purchase. For example, some people can buy shoes and clothes online; others cannot. Books? Yes. Fresh fish? Not so much. If you know from experience that you need to try on clothes or see something before you buy, then ordering online may not be right for you. On the other hand, comparison shopping online is incredibly easy. Sites such as Shopping.com, MySimon, Froogle, and eBay allow you to quickly find the lowest price for an item. Many online retail sites not only give detailed product descriptions with photos, but also include customer ratings of the seller and reviews of the product.
- Be a smart consumer when it comes to shipping. Don’t be in such a hurry! Ground shipping may take a little longer, but it is cheaper than overnight air and at least five times more energy efficient. Always choose to combine shipments of separate items if possible, even if it means waiting a few extra days. That saves on both the energy that would have been needed to transport separate boxes as well as reduces the need for separate sets of shipping materials.
- Online shopping also gives you a chance to support smaller, specialty, “mom and pop” retailers that can sometimes provide harder-to-find products, deeper knowledge and more personal service. Even better, if these smaller merchants are located in your region, using them can help bolster the local economy and reduce the energy required for shipping. If prices are close enough, these types of retailers might be attractive to you.
- You may want to consider buying the item used on a site like eBay or Craigslist. Manufactured items carry with them not only the pounds of carbon associated with the purchase, but also the energy, production costs, and carbon dioxide associated with their entire manufacturing process. Buying used goods decreases the need to manufacture new products and decreases the release of carbon dioxide associated with their manufacture.
- Are you interested in maximizing your carbon savings? If that’s the case, then ask yourself whether you really need to buy that item at all. Mind you, in this economy, it would be harmful to just stop buying everything. But if you don’t really need the item, don’t buy it.
Have you changed any of your own shopping routines to reduce environmental impact? How do you manage to reduce shipping costs or packaging when dealing with online retailers? How should we balance a desire to use online shopping with a need to support our local, neighborhood stores? Please share your thoughts, stories, and suggestions with fellow Rallyers in the forum section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge asks you to avoid one shopping trip by car by choosing to make your purchase online instead. Please choose ground shipping for your delivery option. By buying online, you’ll be saving an estimated 7.4 lbs of CO2. This Challenge is repeatable, and can be accepted once every 14 days. Remember, please don’t take the Challenge for items you already purchase online. Carbonrally is all about making little changes to the way we do things. If this Challenge causes you to make a change, then please accept it!
See the Math
Let’s start with the known or estimated numbers:
- We’ve evaluated the CO2 associated with local transportation, buildings, and packaging related to buying an item in a physical store versus online. We have decided to not include the long distance transportation required to get your merchandise to your town or area. We assume that long-distance ground shipping of merchandise to a store or parcel distribution facility will be similar.
- First let’s look at the carbon costs associated with getting in your car and driving somewhere to shop. According to the 2001 National Household Travel Survey, the average shopping trip by car in the United States is 7.5 miles round trip. Again, this is an average. If you live in a city, your trip may be shorter. If you live in a rural community, your average shopping trip may be much longer. source
- The average American car gets 23.9 miles per gallon of gasoline. source
- Each gallon of gasoline burned by an automobile engine leads to the release of 19.4 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. source
Now put all that together to get the following equation:
- There are also costs associated with the energy needed to heat or air condition the bricks-and-mortar store. All those bright lights don’t stay lit for free either. Based on comparison of online versus retail bookstores, we calculate that a $50 purchase in a store requires heating, cooling and lighting energy equivalent to the release of 5.2 pounds of CO2. source
- So the total comparative CO2 burden associated with buying an item at a local store would be 11.3 pounds of CO2 (6.1 lbs from your car plus 5.2 lbs from the store).
- Next let’s find the carbon costs of buying one item online. UPS estimates that is takes 0.1 gallons of fuel to deliver each package. That is equal to 1.9 pounds of CO2. But the UPS estimate includes both local and long distance ground transportation. As we’ve already noted, in terms of transportation we are only including the local miles (i.e., the costs of bringing the package from the local UPS or US Postal Service distribution center to your house). So we are going to adjust this number downward by 25% and say that each package is equal to 1.4 pounds of CO2. source
- The package you order online also has energy costs and carbon dioxide associated with the building it came from. The energy costs associated with a warehouse or distribution center are much lower than those of a mall store. We calculate a $50 item ordered online is responsible for building energy costs equivalent to 0.4 pounds of CO2. source
- We also have to calculate the additional CO2 associated with packing the item for shipping. The item you order online often arrives in an outer corrugated cardboard box, plus some type of cushioning (e.g., foam peanuts, crushed paper, inflated plastic pillows). For this estimate, we are saying that the shipping box is about the size of a case of beer. That would be equal to 0.5 pounds of cardboard, which has an associated charge of 0.4 pounds of CO2. Some inflatable plastic cushioning “pillows” might easily be equivalent to 4 plastic grocery bags. At 0.1 lbs CO2 per bag, that’s another 0.4 lbs CO2. The total CO2 for packing materials is therefore 0.8 lbs.
- So the total CO2 for an item bought online and delivered to your door is 3.9 lbs (1.9 lbs from the local trucks plus 0.4 lbs from the buildings plus 0.8 lbs for the shipping boxes).
- The carbon savings realized by buying an item online rather than driving to a store is the difference between 11.3 lbs and 3.9 lbs, which is 7.4 lbs of CO2.
Buying online can also save you money. Often, even with shipping costs, it is cheaper to buy something online than it is to buy the same item from a nearby brick-and-mortar store. Stores need to pay for all that heating, air conditioning, lighting, and fancy displays. They pass those costs on to you. A warehouse distribution center doesn’t have as many energy costs associated with each item. Also, when you comparison shop online, you can find the best deal from an individual or company with the best reviews. A new HDTV bought from an online retailer with free shipping can be hundreds of dollars less than the cheapest local store, even after the store’s rebate. And don’t forget used items! A lightly-used wool sweater might cost you a third what the same sweater costs new in the mall.
There you have it. Take off your coat. Put away the car keys. Bring that shopping list to the nearest computer and strike up a chorus of “Wells Fargo Wagon.” It’s time to get clicking, Rallyers. The trucks are waiting to bring you your widgets.
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