Shop Online to Help Our Environment
International campaigns to "go green" and "save the planet" may be politically inspired, but they carry an important message: we must live in balance with our natural surroundings. Gone are the days of making decisions without considering how they will affect the world around us. With this in mind, how can Americans take one of our favorites pastimes, shopping, and balance it with our environment?
Shopping online appears to be gaining environmental advantages over traditional shopping. Last November, the National Retail Federation conducted a survey asking consumers about their expected spending habits over Thanksgiving weekend. They found shoppers expected to spend $343 in brick and mortar stores and $104 online. Researchers then used these projections to calculate the environmental impact of an in-store purchase compared to an online purchase. The study concluded that shopping online may be a more environmentally-friendly way to shop, especially when you are choosing between a big box store or big box website. Big box stores have products made and packaged overseas, then shipped to to a regional distribution center in the US. At the distribution center, they repackage for shipping to the store, where they unpack, display, and then repackage at the checkout for the consumer, who then drives it home and discards the packaging immediately, and in most cases, discards the product itself within a year. Shopping online may mitigate the waste and energy consumption that comes with physical retail stores.
Is shopping online always better than shopping physical retail stores? No, you still have plenty of options to shop environmentally-friendly "in real life". When you find locally produced goods that don't need to be shipped far, even if they are in a brick and mortar shopping location, this may be the truly "greenest" way to shop. Another option is to buy local "online", using sites like etsy.com to support individuals who craft and create unique items, generally at less waste and energy expenditure than big box companies. You can also use the Internet to seek out locally-owned and secondhand shopping resources to support.
When shopping online, make sure to protect your identity. Buy products from sites that have "http" before their domain name (the extra "s" stands for "secure"); they may also have safety seals on their site to reassure your confidence. You may also consider using an online shopping program like PayPal, accepted by most online etailers, and generally considered safe and secure. Buying online is the best way to go unless you are shopping local, but shopping less often is another way to help reduce the environmental impact of shopping. Use a cloth or reusable bag when you go out, and when you stay in to shop, remember to switch off your computer's power when you're done. Shopping itself is not an evil to the environment, but how you shop determines environmental impact. So embrace the new consciousness of shopping, and enjoy!