Online shopping not as green as thought

Online shopping may not be as green as previously thought, a new study has revealed. Making purchases online increases environmental pollution, with more delivery lorries on the roads, while there has been no decrease in vehicle miles travelled.

Logic suggests that online shopping is greener than traditional shopping. When people shop from home, they are not jumping into their cars.

However, online shopping has a greater environmental impact than the public might suspect, according to the results of a new study conducted by the University of Delaware (DCT).

While e-stores require less space and use less energy, online shopping puts more delivery lorries on the roads, which translates into more wear-and-tear on pavements and increased environmental pollution through the emission of fine particulate matter from diesel engines, explains the study.

“Our simulation results showed that home shopping puts an additional burden on the local transportation network, as identified through four measures of effectiveness — travel time, delay, average speed, and greenhouse gas emissions,” commented co-author Mingxin Li, a researcher at DCT.

An additional problem is that residential streets were not designed to accommodate frequent truck stops, parking, loading and unloading, which can interfere with through traffic, causing delays and compromising safety, according to study leader Arde Faghri.

Faghri added that there was an additional, rather surprising problem. “We found that the total number of vehicles miles travelled hasn’t decreased at all with the growth of online shopping,” he said. “This suggests 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.”

The project included data collection through a survey to identify shopping behaviour and summary of the survey results by product category, followed by simulation and analysis. It focused on residential commerce in the city of Newark in Delaware, and was documented in the International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology.

Photo credit: Christian Rivera/ CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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