Internet shopping: good or bad for the planet?
Internet shopping looks like another area where the “is it or isn’t it good for the environment” debate will rage ad infinitum (cf carbon offsetting, biofuels).
In his book Heat, uber-green George Monbiot holds up internet shopping as a potential climate saviour, calculating from DTI data that every delivery van will take three private cars off the roads. But the Times reckons this might not be happening in practice, with the increase in emissions from vans exceeding the reduction in emissions from cars.
The answer to this difference in opinion may come from internet marketing expert Graham Jones who was told unofficially that a whopping 80% of home deliveries fail. This leads to a constant flow of delivery vans trying to catch customers in, failing and taking the parcel back to the depot, taking it out again etc. I’m sure you have plenty anecdotal evidence of your own for this, so I won’t bore you with my own tales of frustration.
Fundamentally, the problem is that the design of the service fails to meet the needs of the customer. Ideally we would all have large secure boxes to receive goods (actually I have, it’s the house of the lady across the road), or, even better, we could stipulate exactly when we wanted the delivery to arrive. Is that really too difficult to organise when any backstreet garage can get same day delivery on car parts? If the so-called ‘home delivery specialists’ could crack this, then internet shopping could slash emissions from shopping trips.
Of course, this debate focusses only on the purchase of tangible goods. The big environmental benefit of internet shopping is the opportunity to buy products that never take a physical form – eBooks, MP3s, ringtones, movies on demand etc. While these require energy, it is almost guaranteed to be a fraction of that needed to manufacture and distribute the physical equivalent.