Carbon Footprint of E-Commerce depends on multiple factors
According to research cited in the yStats.com report, online shopping can have a lower carbon footprint as compared to in-store shopping. However, how much lower the impact depends on multiple factors, including whether customers drive to retail stores by car or other means of transportation and whether they return items purchased online, and if so, to which location and by which means of transportation. Among the biggest emission sources for online shopping the source lists last-mile delivery and energy consumption for IT, whereas for traditional shopping, these include energy consumption of building and consumer’s trip to physical store.
European online shoppers changed their behavior during the pandemic leading to less returns
A survey from December 2020 cited in the yStats.com report unveiled the average return rate of 10 to 20% for all product categories across European geographies studied, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The high returns rate of E-Commerce are highly criticized as they cause environmental impacts mainly due to double shipping, extra packaging, and returned articles not always being eligible for resale. On a positive note, according to the sources cited in the report, the returns rate of online shoppers in Germany was reduced due to a structural change in customers’ behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers switched to buying more consciously and taking into account their current needs leading to less spontaneous purchases, hence, less returns.
Online shoppers care about the environmental impact of E-Commerce and are willing to take action
As a rule of thumb, the quicker the delivery, the higher the harmful emissions related to an online purchase. A recent survey of cross-border online shoppers showed that close to three out of ten of them would receive their package later to lower environmental impact. Another survey found that over 40% of European respondents were willing to pay a premium for ecological transportation of online purchases. Moreover, more than seven in ten global surveyed travelers think that travel companies should offer more sustainable choices.
E-Commerce companies implement solutions to lower the environmental impact of online purchases
Many E-Commerce companies, including Amazon, Alibaba.com, Zalando, and OTTO are implementing measures to lower their environmental impact. These range from investment in electric vehicles, renewable energy, introducing reusable mailing bags, optimizing packaging material use, eliminating single-use plastic materials from packaging, among others. Also, many companies, as well as start-ups, are emerging on the E-Commerce scene with fixes to environmental issues. Some of them focus on reverse logistics, others dedicate themselves to last-mile delivery, returns and packaging challenges. For example, Fision, which is specialized in 3D models for virtual fitting, was acquired by Zalando to tackle the returns problem of fashion items. Big post office and parcel companies are also joining the movement. For example, Deutsche Post DHL Group announced to invest in a climate-neutral logistics solution, with a focus on e-mobility and alternative fuel for aviation.