Is online shopping better for the environment?

There is no denying that online shopping has completely boomed in the last decade. With retail e-commerce sales forecast to reach $8.1 trillion worldwide in 2026, there are no signs that online shopping is going to slow down any time soon. With it now becoming the norm for many, it poses the question: is it better for the environment?

How online shopping impacts the environment

Making an online order has become second nature for a lot of people. Done in a matter of seconds from a phone, it is easy to not consider the environmental impacts that ordering online may have.

Unfortunately, it has been shown that buying online can be more damaging to the environment than if you were to drive to a shop. The main reason for this is the frequency at which purchases are made. When ordering online, it has become so convenient that we tend to purchase just a few items at a time, whereas when buying in-store it becomes consolidated into one larger shop.

The rise in these frequent small online orders means an increase in greenhouse gas emissions due to the location of different distribution centres. There is also the issue of excess packaging waste, which is exacerbated when individual items are purchased.

The growing demand for online shopping

Despite the environmental impact, the demand for online shopping shows no sign of abating. This is unsurprising considering how convenient online shopping is, especially for those who live in more remote locations or have difficulty getting to a physical shop.

As a result, there will also inevitably be greater demand for warehousing and transporting
businesses. This will in turn see increases in sales for operational products and services such as
transport insurance
and navigational software.

How to shop sustainably

Although shopping online is more environmentally damaging than going to a store in some
instances, there are ways in which you can reduce this impact.
Unfortunately, the first way you can do this involves testing your patience. When we order online,
many of us look for the quickest possible delivery date available. While this may be what is most
convenient, selecting this at checkout may mean that your order is transported via plane or in a van
that isn’t full, resulting in increased carbon emissions due to the frequency of journeys being made.

Therefore, when possible, you should opt for a slower delivery time.
Another way you can improve the sustainability of your shopping is to consolidate your orders.
Rather than buying one item from one supplier, two from another, and a final item from a third, why
not find a supplier where you can purchase all five items in one delivery? This will help reduce both
the carbon footprint and the packaging waste of your shop.