Shop online or in store: which has the biggest environmental footprint

July 2019—Just in time for back-to-school and Labor Day sales, consider where you buy. With the advent of online shopping, some wonder if it’s better to go to the store or to their keyboard. This article has an interesting analysis. If you want to simplify the question, think about the last mile because that’s where the biggest impact tends to be.

In general, buying online can have a lighter footprint. The trucks have many deliveries programmed to maximize efficiency and the warehouses don’t fuss with fancy lighting and wide aisles. But buy in bulk when you can and choose the slow-shipping option, unless you really really need it tomorrow. Before you click on the shopping cart, give yourself a day to think about it. Do you really need it? Will it last? How long will it bring you joy? Purchase carefully so you don’t often have to return items. Don’t buy three sizes of shoes from Zappos because you can return them; read the reviews.

One problem these analyses ignore is the impact on small, local companies. If you’re buying from Amazon or Wal-mart, you’re likely buying something from far away, supporting large corporations and distant economies. So when you’re going somewhere in your car, allow a little extra time at least once a week to grab a cup of coffee in a local cafe, grab some produce at the farmers market or browse through a home-grown shop. A little respite for you, a big help for your community.