Is buying online greener than buying at a store?


Apr 30, 2005
"Walmart announced it will close 269 stores globally as it struggles to compete with online retailers like Amazon."

Everything ordered online has to be delivered to your door.
I think about the carbon emissions of all those UPS and FedEx trucks delivering one package at a time, compared to me driving in my car to a store that stocks a zillion things.

And it's not just the trucks.
Relatively few things on store shelves traveled on a jet, but probably most of what is delivered to my door did.
Then, often people want it FAST so overnight means it's more likely to travel by jet.

Then, all that cardboard is from trees.
Sure, some people recycle but even if everyone recycled that's not the same as not cutting down zillions of trees in the first place.
Then there's the recycling infrastructure.

Overall, which paradigm do you think is more green, shopping online or at a store?
Sure, we can think of individual examples of each that are more green or less green ... but I'm talking about overall.
Any ideas?

This is not a trick to catch you and post the answer.
Intentionally, I have not googled it.
I just wondered if anyone cared to discuss this.

1. Which people think is greener.
2. Which really is greener.


Oct 20, 2007
I would assume shopping online but I live in a large city, London.

A couple years ago there was a news article, and I'll admit that I have no idea how biased it was or was not, about how grocery shopping online is greener. You order online, the truck is at the depot, fills up with several people's orders, and a computer routes the deliveries the best and most efficient way. Often the amazon courier or grocery delivery isn't just dropping off for us, but for many people in the building.

I'd think it would be dependent on where you live entirely.


Aug 29, 2014
I'd also assume online is greener.

For walmarts example, they have a warehouse. So things are delivered to the warehouse, then to the store, then hundreds/thousands of people drive from wherever to pick it up and drive home.

In a delivery situation, it would be delivered to the warehouse. Then a truck would be packed up, usually in some sort of precise order that is the most efficient for the driver, then it is dropped to your door, then the delivery truck returns to the warehouse.

1 truck delivering 100 items is far more efficient/green than 100 people driving both ways to pick something up. It is also less paper/electricity/water to eliminate the stores. Not having to provide washrooms, mcdonalds, receipts, price tags, etc would greatly reduce their footprint. It would also be cheaper, because they would be eliminating insurance on the property (ie someone slips at walmart, can sue them), and less employees.

This is my theory at least!


Mar 3, 2013
It actually depends largely on a number of variables.
Shopping online can be greener in some cases - if you choose ground shipping, if you'd have to drive more than 10 miles to get to a store, etc. When you cut out the retail store (which requires a lot of energy in heating, air, lights, etc.) and you buy direct from a warehouse, it really can be more environmentally friendly even when you consider that buying online requires about 2.5 times more in packaging.
If you live close to stores, can walk/bike/take public transportation, and/or buy goods in store that are produced locally, then shopping in store is probably more green.
It comes down to whether you are more concerned about fossil fuels or packaging/waste (and then a combination of other variables that are specific to each individual).


Dec 6, 2014
I'm not convinced it's more 'green' than going to the store. There still needs to be shipping of items to people's doors, warehousing, packaging etc. That all has environmental impact and it probably isn't that different to going to the store.

The only win I can see is that the online seller doesn't need as much staff as a B&M store as well as all the overheads that goes along with that, therefore making money (or passing on the savings to the customer). That's jobs lost as well when you think about that.


Jun 8, 2008
It depends.

Online shopping is more necessary if you live in an area with limited or no public transportation
or have to drive at least five miles each way to go shopping
or own an inefficient car
or consolidate orders from vendors

But in store shopping might be the better choice if you usually walk, bike or take public transportation to shops
or have a fuel-efficient car
or consolidate shopping trips with other errands and activities
and use reusable shopping bags

And for Holiday shopping it depends again.
As a rule, online shopping will result in less carbon pollution because one delivery van filled with Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa gifts etc. can replace hundreds of individual cars shuttling from one shopping center to the next.

But online shopping generates two and a half times more packaging than goods bought in a store. Goods purchased online are also more likely to be returned, resulting in additional transport-related emissions.

According to a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, driving to the mall is not the green route. In fact, those that prefer online shopping are actually doing the environment a favor. Results from this study suggest that online shopping via led to 35 percent less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than more traditional retail shopping. Since there’s no transportation required in online shopping, there are no carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere like when you drive to stores. These findings suggest that what makes the traditional retail shopping model the non-green option is that transportation plays a key role.

At first sight, the arguments that online shopping is better for the environment are plausible. Whereas for example a clothes shop has to be air-conditioned and supplied with electricity all the year round, online customers can order their new coats from home. The goods are then delivered to the required address along with lots of other parcels, saving the customer a journey, possibly by car. The packaging material can be recycled, whereas any goods that remain unsold in shops have to be repackaged and stored.If we save money or time when we're shopping, we notice it immediately in our wallets or on our watches. However, CO2 emissions are not directly noticeable. What is certain is that the extent of emissions depends largely on our own shopping behaviour. If we order three pairs of shoes, for example, try them on at home and then choose one pair and send the other two back, we've increased threefold the emission of hazardous substances for the pair we've bought. In Germany alone, every third online order is returned. This amounts to more than 250 million return packages per year – in other words, a whole load of extra deliveries requiring equally high energy consumption to get them to their destination.

I don't see one clear answer. If you are smart about it you can make the best choice in each situation. That is group your purchases from vendor together so only one delivery needs to be made or carpool to the store with friends and make sure what you are buying is what you are keeping etc. There are ways to make each option greener.
I will say I usually purchase more things online for ease of convenience and I can shop around for better pricing that way too vs just going to the stores etc. but I do a healthy mix of both.
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