Nobody would say it, but e-commerce suffocates the environment less than conventional retail

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The environmental damage hidden in e-commerce is well known. And all those who see fit to buy online (and there are more and more of them) are more than aware that, by doing so, they inevitably commit sins against the planned battered planet Earth. After all, the orders we make on the network of networks carry transport costs and involve the use of huge amounts of packaging. In addition, if what we buy is not to our liking and we have to make returns, the environmental damage multiplies.

However, it seems that electronic commerce does not commit as many excesses against the environment as it may seem soon and it is in any case less polluting than retail in its more conventional aspect. This is the conclusion of at least one recent study carried out in Germany by Gambio and Logistics Advisory Experts.

E-commerce generates on average significantly less CO2 emissions than consumption channeled through traditional offline stores. And it is that the energy expenditure that takes place in the buildings where physical retail carries out its operations is extraordinarily high and that tips the balance in favor of electronic commerce.

On the other hand, traditional retail is responsible for 11% of traffic volume in cities. The shipping and delivery of online orders is responsible, however, for just 0.5% of that volume of traffic. The supply chain plays an absolutely decisive role here, since in physical stores the products must be transported from the warehouses of the point of sale and in the case of online commerce, the merchandise is dispatched directly to the customer’s home, which does not have to use no additional transportation to make your purchases.

Both packaging and returns have more or less less impact on the CO2 emissions generated by retail
The research cannot, however, adequately refute the polluting effects emanating from the packaging used in e-commerce. It is an inescapable truth that the use of additional packaging has a pernicious effect on the environment, although this effect varies depending on the product, the size of the product, the type and the material used.

The studies already published in relation to the environmental impact of packaging suggest that it generates between 20 and 1,000 grams of CO2 for each purchase made. In general terms, physical retail accounts for a better performance in this section in particular. However, the CO2 generated by packaging plays a much smaller role compared to the emissions generated by traffic and energy consumption.

If we stop at the environmental impact of returns, the effects are worse if the return takes place in a physical store using the car as a means of transport than if the product we want to get rid of is sent directly to an e-commerce company. However, the truth is that returns are much more common in e-commerce than in offline retail, so in the global calculation the former may be more harmful than the latter.

Returns have in any case only a minor importance in the global environmental impact of e-commerce and traditional retail.

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