The Real Cost of Online Shopping


Online shopping is a reality of our time. And shipping and e-stores go hand in hand. Obviously, if you walk or bike or take public transit to a store in your vicinity, you’ve cut the energy and resources required for e-commerce by more than half. But wouldn’t it be fabulous to have the fairytale of all of our favorite shops within a 10 block radius? It’s become increasingly more difficult to shop locally even if you reside in a dense city.fresh-direct And forget about getting those harder to find eco-goods. Free, and next-day delivery, whether it be for groceries, diapers, pet food, or a small electronic adaptor for the odd tech device, is not only hard to resist, for many it feels like a necessity. It may be convenient but is it far from free.

Our ‘click & ship’ addiction has saddled us with an out of control amount of packing waste, congested communities, and an inability for local businesses to compete. Given the carbon footprint of an Amazon, there really is no such thing as “free” delivery. The company has a dismal record of eco-efficiency from energy sourcing (a company worth $8.2 billion could easily be powered by 100% renewable energy) to eco-friendly packaging and delivery.


Which brings us to the boxes. The mountains upon mountains of boxes. Sure, they can and should be recycled but recycling isn’t an energy-free endeavor. Recycling uses precious resources as well; namely water and electricity. And those boxes are made from trees – at a time when we cannot sacrifice our trees. FSC certified wood, managed forestry, and tree farms don’t negate rampant wild fires and the continued decimation of old growth forests.

Who ultimately pays for two-hour delivery?

Amazon Prime has added a two-hour delivery option, which relies on hundreds of thousands of independent contractors using primarily passenger cars for delivery. Smaller delivery vehicles means fewer packages transported at one time adding up to more congestion and a higher carbon load. Labor issues withstanding, the practice of outsourcing delivery to independent contractors not only protects Amazon from responsibility of insuring and supporting their own fleet – but additionally chokes already clogged cities with cars and vans competing with larger delivery trucks.

air-deliveryAmazon isn’t the only game in town. Just to compete, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and most major retailers must also offer free, two-day delivery to meet consumers’ expectations. The last decade has seen New York City household deliveries triple to the tune of 1.5 million packages daily. If and when more delivery fleets transition to electric emissions will be reduced, but air and maritime transport will continue to be an issue for the unforeseeable future. Remember that in most cases, if something is coming from a longer distance, it will come by air.

delivery-boxesThe sheer volume of internet shopping has a profound impact on our communities as well. My local pet food store just went under. The high rent made it impossible to compete with the Chewys, Petcos and Wag.coms of the world. So, while we as consumers are supporting these super e-stores, our local culture is evaporating along with neighborhood bakeries, bookstores, and hardware stores, and are being replaced with endless Starbucks, banks, and national chain drug stores.

One solution is to be more organized and mindful about our purchases. As the Holidays approach, last minute panic practically guarantees next day delivery. Amazon hosts third-party sellers, so piling a bunch of items in your cart and buying at one time doesn’t mean that your order won’t arrive in multiple boxes. Shopping a single-shingle store (ie. Target or Patagonia) with the most to offer to your cart will help to insure that your delivery comes all at once in the most streamlined fashion. Or if ordering an item is a necessity, and there is an option to pick-up your purchase at the nearest store location that is convenient for you, go that route.

Don’t opt for the fastest shipping because it’s free

Not in a hurry? Take advantage of Amazon’s  “free no-rush shipping” option on Prime-eligible products. They’ll make it work your wait with a credit or discount towards items like eBooks, movies, or Prime Pantry groceries.

“In general, waiting is good. Opt for longer delivery times, which will be more efficient. Expedited shipments are less environmentally friendly. If you don’t need it right away, don’t pick [two-day shipping] just because it’s free”  – Anne Goodchild, director of the University of Washington’s Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center

shop-local-coffee-signThe best plan is a shopping day to a locale offering the bulk of your favorite shops in one place or town. Support your community and shop as locally as possible. Think of it as protecting the environment and an investment in your community property value.

Oh, and bring your own bags!




Tags: ,

About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have.

Post a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *