Is it more sustainable to buy online or in the store?
I do not go out on Black Friday. That’s not to say I do not like the idea of Christmas shopping; I just prefer to shop when everyone else isn’t. And I also appreciate the advent of online shopping. It’s great to be able to find that one present your daughter asked for in a matter of minutes and have it delivered to your door. So which is more sustainable?
It’s all in how you define sustainability. And we all know that there are multiple definitions. If you are talking strictly about carbon footprint, there are a few studies out there that calculate a more sustainable shopping experience online. These tend to be a little dated, and with new, more sustainable shipping variations, I’m not sure that the old carbon footprint assumptions apply. If I buy three items from Amazon at the same time, and they are shipped from the same warehouse in the same box, that is more sustainable than if they are being sourced from three different stores in three different boxes. But what if I have to return something?
Also, I still have to buy wrapping paper, so if I am going to the store for that anyway, shouldn’t I just head over to the store and buy gifts during the same trip?
On the other hand, buying local can be very sustainable. And the Saturday following Black Friday is Small Business Saturday, an event started by American Express to help support small businesses, many of which produce and sell locally.
But while it would seem obvious that locally produced food would be more sustainable than food items shipped, other products may not be so cut and dry. Does the local business sell a product completely created in its area, or are materials shipped from far locations? We know many major retailers have embraced energy efficiency and supply chain sustainability, but do we know that about a local store?
So while the pessimist might say they are playing both sides of the street, the optimist may look at it as serving the needs of two different markets: It offers traditional experiences AND provides the opportunity for the sustainably minded to select the option they feel is most sustainable.
Whatever you select, I wish you a happy holiday season.