With the holidays already upon us, now is a good time to address a perennial question: “If I want to lower my carbon footprint, does it make more sense to order things online and have them shipped to my home or to go to stores myself and buy them?” Unfortunately, the answer to that question is, “It depends.”
One of the challenges to answering this question is that the amount of energy one would use to go to a store to buy something in person can vary widely based on a number of different factors, including:
- Would you drive to the store?
- If so, what vehicle would you drive, and how far?
- Would you combine your trip to buy that product with other trips you would make, anyway?
The major benefit of online shopping is that the product wouldn’t travel as many miles before it got to your home. A product sold in a store typically goes from the factory to a central warehouse first, and then a regional distribution center, before being shipped to the store where you buy it, then take it home. If you buy online, products go from the distribution center directly to your home. And, if you’re buying a gift for someone who’s not nearby, you can have it shipped directly to the recipient.
People often wonder about the emissions from the delivery trucks themselves because the trucks are highly visible, but (unless you live an isolated area), there would likely be a truck coming near your home whether you ordered something or not. Moreover, delivery companies have strong incentives to route their trucks efficiently and to adopt more efficient vehicle technologies. Be sure to select standard shipping, though, because the faster it gets to you, the more energy will be consumed, producing more carbon (and other) pollution.
If you want to be confident that you’re reducing the footprint of transporting your product as much as possible, your best bet is to order online from a retailer that ships via the US Postal Service. A mail carrier comes by your home 6 days a week, anyway, negating the need for a truck to make a special delivery.
The best-known such retailer is Amazon.com, which ships via USPS almost exclusively, but there are others.
If you choose to buy through Amazon, keep in mind that BTG can benefit from your purchases through the AmazonSmile program, which donates 0.5% of the price of your eligible AmazonSmile purchases to the charitable organization of your choice. Here’s how:
- Go to Smile.Amazon.com
- Sign in using your regular Amazon account information, or create a new account if you don’t already have one
- Search for Bridging The Gap on the page where you’re asked to choose which charity to support
- When the results of your search come up, be sure to click on our entry because there are other organizations with the same name outside Kansas City
One last thing: While it’s great to reduce the impact of the products you do choose to buy, reducing the number of products you buy will have far greater impact. The holidays aren’t really supposed to be about how much we give (or get), anyway.