Have you ever wondered if you are causing more harm to the environment by shopping online?

There is some conflicting information out there and often people perceive online shopping to be much worse for the environment than visiting a physical shop. However, this often is not the case.

A detailed study which was analysed by Exploring the Problem Space, looks at various factors and how they compare, including the emissions of getting the product to the customer, what happens before delivery (logistics) and packaging. 

It concluded that looking at the traditional retail model of visiting a shop, 65% of the total emissions comes from customers using transport to get the physical shop.

We are going to look at three important factors when it comes to sustainability and online shopping.

Shipping and sustainability

Shipping is a huge component of online shopping and without a doubt, it is the main generator of CO2 emissions. This is an inevitable part of online shopping.

However, with online shopping being such a big way of life now, it's common that there are delivery trucks close by on a daily basis. This depends where you live of course, but this is the case for most UK residents, living in urban areas.


This means that most courier companies in the UK such as an Amazon, Royal Mail, DPS etc are likely to be delivering to neighbours in the surrounding neighbourhood. As a result, CO2 emissions are reducing per order because a driver isn't having to make one-off, long journeys to deliver one package (as opposed to each household driving to the shops in their individual cars).

Tips to reduce your carbon footprint

1. Choose a specific delivery date. If you are a keen online shopper and often buy small things on a weekly or even daily basis, you can often request what day you would like the products delivered. There are a small handful of courier companies in the UK so the chances are, they might be delivering all or some your products from different businesses.This is also great if your family also order products with the same delivery date because all of your items can be sent together via one trip.

Amazon recently introduced a new feature where you can choose a set delivery day or choose for all items to come together

2. Choose to opt to receive shipping notifications if the business offers this option. This means you will know when your item is arriving and if you are not in, you can reschedule the delivery. Ultimately this saves an unnecessary journey to your house if you are not in, causing two trips.

3. If you use a big online marketplace to regularly buy items, add them to your basket but make the purchase at one time, once you have several things on your list. This reduces journeys for individual items

Packaging and sustainability

Like shipping, packaging is inevitable when it comes to online shopping because your items need to arrive with you safely and without damage. Many companies these days are using recyclable materials such as cardboard boxes, paper tape etc.

However, there are sadly some businesses that still use a lot of filling such as polystyrene and bubble wrap which is not recyclable or compostable. There are lots of environmentally friendly filling options out there, such as shredded paper and straw and hopefully more and more businesses will switch to these materials.

Top tips to reduce your packaging consumption

1. If you receive your online order and it is packaged in plastic and other unsustainable materials, send the company an email to ask them why and if they would consider switching to eco-friendly options. The more people that do this, the more likely the business will realise that going green should be a priority.

2. Reuse your packaging if you send parcels.

3. Give away your empty boxes to your local community. There are so many people that would make use of your boxes and reuse these i.e. for moving house. Advertise them on Facebook Marketplace for free and they are likely to be picked up by someone in need.


Buying from brands that make a difference

There are many big brands out there that want you to spend as much as you can and as regular as you can. Take the fast fashion industry for example, where the big brands are encouraging society to buy the latest dress or shoes, not because you need it but because you want it.

Subscription model businesses sometimes have a reputation of encouraging customers to spend more and buy regularly. However the sustainability of the business largely depends on the products the business is selling and their ethics. For example, some beauty brand subscriptions often send out a range of new products every month, which come in individual plastic packaging. Many of these get thrown out or are not even used.

Coffee subscription businesses, on the other hand, send out consumables which are an everyday item and in most cases, are 100% consumed. Many subscription companies now send their products in recyclable and compostable packaging.

So choose your brands wisely. Take a few minutes to research the company and if they are making an effort to be sustainable.

Top tips to choosing ethical brands:

1. Research the company before placing your order. Choose brands that care about the environment. Look to see if they have any environmental/sustainable pages on their website.

2. Look at their images and information on packaging and choose brands that that promote eco-friendly packaging.

3. Giving back. Some companies give back to the planet and local communities. They might plant trees or give to local charities. You will often find this information on a company website if you have a good look around it. 

Your shopping habits make a difference

One of the first things that should come to mind when we choose to shop online (or at a physical shop) is do I really need it? We live in such a consumer led world and we often buy things when we don't really need it.

It may seem like shopping sustainably for just one purchase won't have much of an impact. However, shopping consciously every single time really does make a huge difference over the span of your lifetime. If every single person shopped consciously over their lifetime, the planet would be in a much better place.