The National Retail Federation conducted a survey late last month in which it asked consumers about their anticipated spending over the Thanksgiving weekend.
The results showed that, on average, consumers would spend $343 inside stores and $104 through online purchases. Researchers used these numbers to calculate that the negative environmental impact of an in-store purchase made on Black Friday is 50 times that of an online purchase made on Cyber Monday.
In more general terms, the study found that carbon emissions related to purchasing an item inside a store represents an increase of more than 15 times that of an online purchase.
One of the simplest ways for you to cut down on your environmental footprint may be to do more of your shopping online. Compared with buying online, purchasing an item in a store may have an environmental impact that’s 50 times higher, and carbon emissions may be 15 times greater.
The study, which was conducted by MindClick GSM, a sustainability consulting firm, may give some added incentives for those of you who prefer to shop from behind your computer instead of going to the mall.
It also builds on prior research, including a study by Carnegie Mellon University’s Green Design Institute, which found that shopping online reduces environmental impact with 35 percent less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than shopping in a store.
Why do brick-and-mortar stores take such an environmental toll? Typically retailers have products shipped from a distributor to a regional warehouse, and then distributed to individual stores. This requires not only extra energy but also extra packaging. Customers then drive to and from the store, and take their purchases home in another package, typically a plastic bag.
There are, of course, many variables that these studies did not take into account. For instance, those people who walk to a store or take public transportation. Or those who frequent local merchants selling local goods, which therefore have not been transported great distances. Factors such as these may make local shopping friendlier than online.
In general, however, the emerging evidence is showing that shopping online is far better for the environment than driving to the mall.
What May be Even Better for the Environment than Shopping Online?
Shopping less overall.
Buying “stuff” you don’t really need can take a massive toll on the environment, in many more ways than you may realize. If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend you watch The Story of Stuff, as it does a phenomenal job of illustrating the real effects of over-consumption and over-production.
All of this “stuff” -- the electronics, the toys, the clothes and all the other material goods that we in the United States use to express our very own personal value -- carry a hefty price tag, not just for your wallet but also for the planet and the people who live on it.
The Story of Stuff shows just how all these products end up in your home, detailing the processes of extraction (trashing the planet), production (adding in toxic chemicals), distribution, consumption and ultimately disposal. The impact all of this has on communities at home and abroad are hidden from your view, yet it is immense.
This is a complex, interactive web that many of us fail to fully appreciate.
How to Protect Your Identity When Shopping Online
While convenience is often cited as the biggest benefit to shopping online, safety is typically the greatest concern. Many online stores may not encrypt the credit cards that you give them and store them in a database that makes them vulnerable to hackers. This puts you at risk for abuse of your credit card or even worse, identity theft.
Our store does encrypt cards and does not put you at risk.
When shopping elsewhere online, many credit card companies have responded to this risk by allowing you to obtain a temporary credit card that is only good for one time. Check your credit card's website for information.
Further, sites that display "https" before their address when you're entering sensitive information and those displaying certification symbols from TRUSTe and other organizations are among the safest sites on the Web, so look for these symbols before you buy.
Our store is a participant in the TRUSTe Privacy Seal Program.
More Tips for Greener Shopping
In general, purchasing locally sourced and locally crafted goods, from a local merchant, will be best for the environment and your local economy. For items you cannot get made locally, seek out responsible companies that do not exploit people or the environment to make your purchases from.
Finally, make the switch from paper or plastic bags to cloth shopping bags. Each reusable shopping bag you use has the potential to eliminate hundreds, if not thousands, of disposable bags over its lifetime.