• Roisin Carter

How climate-friendly is online shopping?

Updated: Aug 29



With the click of a button, we can now have anything we want to be delivered right to our doorstep. Online shopping allows us to buy items we desire whenever we want.


Unsurprisingly, the phenomenon of online shopping has only increased overconsumption. Since its inception, online shopping has been popular but has only grown more since the COVID-19 pandemic. From groceries to clothing, technology, and more, people were buying everything online.

Despite lockdowns and regulations easing in most countries, the growth of online shopping has continued to rise. In fact, by 2025, online shopping is expected to make up almost 25% of all retail sales. With the growth of online shopping in mind, exactly how environmentally friendly is online shopping really? Let’s dive in and find out.

How Does Online Shopping Fare on the Sustainability Scale? One of the main attractions of online shopping is its convenience, and this is a factor that will always hook people in. As mentioned previously, we can literally purchase anything we want with just a few clicks and swipes on our phones.

People will have no issue pinpointing the advantages of online shopping, but how exactly does it fare on the sustainability scale? What is the environmental impact of all this simple spending?

To name a few areas where online shopping falls short, increased demand for packaging has meant there is significant production of single-use materials.


In addition, carbon emissions increase dangerously due to goods being transported worldwide.

Another element that impacts the environment negatively is the disregard for mounting waste caused by packaging goods. The short of it is online shopping has a considerable environmental footprint. However, there are ways you can shop online in an eco-conscious manner.



The True Environmental Impact When it comes to buying a product, there is not just a monetary cost but also an environmental one. Continue reading as we unveil the true environmental impact of online shopping.

Shipping into overdrive For items to reach our door, they need to be shipped. On a global scale, this can include planes, trains or ships. On a local level, it will still require a delivery vehicle. Almost 40% of GHG emissions in 2020 resulted from shipping and return of purchases. The increasing demand for delivery will only increase this percentage.

Free returns are costing our Earth It’s a great buying incentive which gives consumers the confidence they can easily return unwanted items. However, we return around 30% of our orders, which shows this perk is being abused to only increase the environmental footprint of online shopping. All the emissions saved on collective delivery are lost to the individual return of unwanted products.




Packaging pollutants It’s common to receive a small item in a confusingly large box packed full of plastic packaging. The inescapable curse of online shopping is overzealous packaging made from non-compostable products. Less than 15% of plastic packaging is recycled. The increased usage of packaging contributes to the world’s out of control waste issue. It is all too often found in natural environments.

Best Online Shopping Practices Below are some tips on engaging in online Our rule of thumb for ensuring you are ordering mindfully is to sleep on it. See if you are still interested in the product in a couple of days. If they have not crossed your mind, don’t buy them. With that said, limiting your consumption to what you need is essential also.

Packaging policies Before ordering, find out what packaging the retail you’re using favours. If they’re not even mentioning it, it’s probably not sustainable. Most companies will shout from the rooftops if they implement any sustainable practices! Additionally, more environmentally considerate companies are taking advantage of new compostable packaging materials. When purchasing multiple items, you can request items be sent together in the same package rather than individually. If poor packaging is unavoidable, ensure it ends up in recycling.



Reflect Your Values in Your Spending While companies should practice sustainable e-commerce, markets are driven by money. Suppose we continue to favour fast delivery, free returns and poorly produced packaging over sustainable practices. In that case, there are a few reasons for companies to change. If purchasing trends reflect environmentally-conscious practices, companies will be fast to update their operations. As consumers, we have a responsibility to be considerate in our purchases; choosing convenience over consciousness will cost everyone big in the long run. shopping with an environmentally conscious mindset.

Be patient If you must purchase an item online, you can help reduce the impact of this by selecting the standard shipping option. This avoids dispatch companies sending out vans under capacity. A full delivery van can reduce the emission but filling them means waiting for all products to arrive at the delivery station.

Order mindfully When online shopping, you might purchase multiple items,

especially clothing, with the intention of sending the ones you don’t fancy back because it’s free. This purchasing style damages our environment; if you’re not confident in your purchase, it’s time to head to the shops and try products out.

Our rule of thumb for ensuring you are ordering mindfully is to sleep on it. See if you are still interested in the product in a couple of days. If they have not crossed your mind, don’t buy them. With that said, limiting your consumption to what you need is essential also.




Packaging policies Before ordering, find out what packaging the retail you’re using favours. If they’re not even mentioning it, it’s probably not sustainable. Most companies will shout from the rooftops if they implement any sustainable practices!

Additionally, more environmentally considerate companies are taking advantage of new compostable packaging materials. When purchasing multiple items, you can request items be sent together in the same package rather than individually. If poor packaging is unavoidable, ensure it ends up in recycling.

Reflect Your Values in Your Spending While companies should practice sustainable e-commerce, markets are driven by money. Suppose we continue to favour fast delivery, free returns and poorly produced packaging over sustainable practices. In that case, there are a few reasons for companies to change. If purchasing trends reflect environmentally-conscious practices, companies will be fast to update their operations. As consumers, we have a responsibility to be considerate in our purchases; choosing convenience over consciousness will cost everyone big in the long run.


Read more informative sustainability content in our free online magazine, Earth Mother Magazine. You can even download it as a pdf to read offline.