No one needs convincing that online shopping is an amazing convenience. Previous generations could only dream of buying cheap paperback novels and deluxe Snuggies without ever leaving their home. But the ease of use isn't the only upside to shopping online: there are also some legit environmental reasons to consider doing your duty as an American consumer in front of a computer screen. From physical costs to shipping concerns, it's beginning to make more and more sense to do as much shopping as possible remotely. Plus you get to avoid traffic, and who can't get behind that?
- Reduces fossil fuel consumption: Transportation makes up more than 70 percent of petroleum consumption in the United States. We drive so often that we don't even think about it anymore, and every single trip to the mall or a department store adds to that usage. The easiest way to cut down on that level of fuel use is to just stop driving, period, and that means doing as many things as possible via online commerce. Trips to the bookstore, record store, or galleria are needless wastes of gas when you consider that you can get the same products online. Even if you pay the same for something online as you would in a store, you still come out ahead because you didn't have to pay for fuel that you then burned traveling to and from the shop.
- Reduces printed materials: Catalogs are worse than junk mail because they trick you into thinking they're worth reading, when they're really just a waste of paper and ink. Because really, what's the point of catalogs in 2010? No one actually shops from them. They're merely bulkier versions of the same images and information shoppers can get online. What's more, it's going to become increasingly hard to find someone who prefers making the phone calls required of catalog shopping. Buying online is designed to bypass the catalog-and-operator phase and go straight to the purchase, and in doing so, it wisely eliminates a huge and needless output of paper catalogs that will be tossed out after a few days.
- Greener shipping: It's not just the reduced amount of fuel on the consumer end that makes online shopping so green. The benefits also find their way to the companies selling the products. By taking the warehouse and store out of the supply chain and sending the items directly from the distributor to the customer, sellers can make fewer trips and save fuel by not having to move their items between multiple locations.
- Encourages dematerialization: Dematerialization has traditionally referred to doing more with less by finding ways to make a business run with a smaller quantity of materials and inventory. In the context of online shopping, it refers not only to the reduction of stored items but to the process by which those items are transformed into digital products. Books, CDs, computer programs, movies, newspapers: the rise of online shopping has helped push these products into the digital realm, and getting them instantly delivered electronically even further reduces the need to spend money and fuel to ship physical products.
- Reduces overhead energy costs: Most people probably don't think about the energy costs of running a store. Keeping a physical space up and running isn't just a matter of paying rent, but of using power in everything from the lights to the computers, not to mention the energy spent to build the space, clear the parking lot, and turn the building into something habitable. This is all in addition to the warehouse location where products are stored. By shopping online, you reduce the need for retailers to maintain as many physical locations, which in turn lowers the amount of energy being spent, which in turn saves the environment from additional strains placed by the consumption of fuels. It's a chain effect that benefits everyone.
- Save money and energy by comparison shopping: Some items necessarily require a bit of research and comparison before buying, like a TV or washing machine. Shoppers used to trek from one store to another looking for the best deal on the best product, and all that traveling back and forth doubled or tripled the amount of fuel and energy they'd normally spend making a trip to buy something. Thankfully, this is pretty much a thing of the past. Critical reviews? Online. Customer feedback? Online. The ability to compare prices between dozens of retailers nationwide? Online. You can save the planet your endless running around by doing your homework on the Internet.
- Support eco-friendly retailers: Independent sellers can't hope to compete with global corporations on a physical scale, but the Internet is a great equalizer. Everyone's website works the same, and takes the same money. For instance, Green 'n' Brown lets you shop for organic and environmentally friendly products, and each transaction supports small retailers and craftspeople who are dedicated to creating items that can be made and sold without harming the environment. Shopping online is a fantastic way to provide assistance to worthy organizations while also getting products with a unique, homegrown feel.
- Reuse good products: Let's be honest: a lot of times, you can totally get by with something that's been used by someone else, especially if you're shopping for a book, record, or piece of electronics. Online shopping promotes a culture of smart recycling that encourages consumers to spend money on previously owned products, a habit that reduces the demand for new ones and, thus, the environmental costs of producing and shipping them. As with everything else on this list, the point isn't so much the way you shop but the chain reaction it has on the environment around you, from the production facility down to the neighborhood store. By using digital means to get recycled goods, and by keeping an eye on the broader effects of your shopping, you can rest easier knowing that your impact on the planet has been drastically reduced.