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Online shopping often not better for environment, report says

Shopping online, hailed as a brilliant way to cut down on trips by car to the high street, is often no better for the environment, according to a report.


Shoppers need to buy at least 25 items from a website, before any environmental benefits take effect. If a consumer buys fewer items than that it would be better to drive to the shops, than rely on a lorry to make the delivery to their home.

This is the finding of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which looked at the so-called rebound’ effects of activities that are commonly thought to be green. Rebound effects are the unintended consequences of policies.

Prof Phil Blythe, chairman of the IET transport policy panel, which produced the report, said: “We hear a lot about the environmental benefits achieved as a result of working from home. However, on closer inspection it does appear that any environmental benefits are marginal.”

The report highlighted that buying goods online can provide carbon savings, but only if the conditions are right. The study found that environmental savings can be achieved if online shopping replaces 3.5 traditional shopping trips, or if 25 orders are delivered at the same time, or, if the distance travelled to where the purchase is made is more than 50km (31 miles). Shopping online does not offer net environmental benefits unless these criteria are met.

Prof Phil Blythe added: “Our report highlights two important messages for policy-makers. Firstly, climate change is a real threat to our planet, so we must not get overwhelmed by the task and use rebound effects as an excuse not to act.

“Secondly, policy-makers must do their homework to ensure that rebound effects do not negate the positive benefits of their policy initiatives and simply move carbon emissions from one sector to another."


17/09/10