The Environmental Cost of Free Shipping

Yes there’s an environmental cost to free shipping – or at least, free two-day shipping. Vox examines the impact of online shopping and ways to make it more sustainable. Via i-D:

It won’t come as a huge surprise that fashion and beauty sales account for a significant proportion of the multi-billion dollar online shopping industry. With e-commerce growing at around 25% annually, right now there will be thousands of individually wrapped items of clothing and make-up tubes flying around in the air making their way from a giant warehouse to the home of whoever happened to log onto the internet and click ‘buy now’.

Buying online is integral to the modern shopping experience and most of us engage in it with little-to-no thought of its environmental impact. It’s difficult to argue with the luxurious novelty of buying a pair of discounted Alexander Wang sandals in the middle of the night from your remote country home miles away from the nearest store. Even better given there’s little risk involved as returns are typically accepted without question. With people all over the world regularly buying, trying and returning, this means your pair of shoes might make four or more long-haul flights before they find their Cinderella. It’s undeniably convenient but what impact is this having on our planet?

And this is where it gets tricky. If you’re not getting your outfit from an online store which relies on a relatively efficient, centralised warehouse for storage then you’re likely driving in your non-fuel efficient car to the store with all the bright lights and pretty bags to buy what you need. Both methods have their environmental pitfalls. And while research suggests that around 23% of online shoppers are going into stores less often and saving energy that way, there are so many variables in the fashion supply chain – from the types of vehicles used, the distance travelled, the cubic volume of individual shipments, failed deliveries, returns and so on – that to argue for one form of shopping being more planet friendly than another is actually very difficult. What we, and the companies making and selling the clothes, especially the producers of fast fashion, can do is be more mindful generally.

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