Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Online Shopping vs. The Mall

I know that I provide you with a lot of links that take you to websites where you can purchase things to help you green up your life ... but have you ever wondered weather or not online shopping is better or worse for the environment? It's something that I've been thinking about lately. Sure, I could buy all of my 7th Generation products from Amazon but I know that I can also get them at some grocery stores. Is it worth purchasing everything online? I decided that I wanted to find out.

There is no getting around the fact that in order to get anything you need you'll probably have to burn some gas to get it. Unless you have a big basket on your bike and live fairly close to the store and you have the leg power to get you there and back (if you do, you are my hero). But if you consider the distances and the number of trips it takes for you to get the item that you're looking for, you will probably find that online shopping is better suited for some products while physically going to the store is better for others.

The Grocery Store
A typical trip to the grocery store for me has two legs: I drive there and then I drive home. As long as I know that you will find everything on my list in one store, I figure it can't hurt to drive there. But you can get your groceries delivered to your door if you would rather. You can read an article about it here and you might want to look at companies like Netgrocer and Dinewise if your local grocer doesn't have their shopping site online yet. Personally, I like to get out of my house every now and then and I think grocery shopping is something that you don't have to take online if you don't want to.

If you want to be a little greener about it (and have more fun at the same time), ask your neighbor if they want to go along with you. You'll save gas when you carpool and it will be great bonding time for the two, or maybe three, or you. If you're scared to ask your neighbor to go with you because you've never talked to them before, you can start the conversation by making them a batch of cookies just to be nice.

The Mall
This was quite interesting to read about online when I was doing my research for this article. There are several things that malls are doing these days to green up the way they run business. This includes providing recycling options for retailers when they are disposing of their cardboard stock boxes to putting a garden on the roof! However, this doesn't make up for the fact that these sprawling malls take up a ton of land space, space that probably was a farm at one time, and covers it with tons of asphalt. This alters the landscape and can cause all sorts of drainage problems when rain water can't be absorbed into the ground like normal. You can read about all the different problems that can come from paving large areas in this article from Florida.

But again, you can make a mall trip only have two legs: one to get there and one to get back. And usually when I go to the mall I go with another person so I carpool too. But depending on where you live, your mall could be very far away (it takes me 20-30 minutes to get to mine) and the traffic could be terrible on the drive over. My mall is in the middle of a commercial area with tons of apartments and neighborhoods around it which means that there is always traffic and there are tons of stoplights.

Shopping Online
There are many benefits to taking your recreational shopping habits online rather than to the mall.
  1. You save gas, time and energy.
    • You save money on gas because you don't have to drive to get to your computer, hopefully.
    • You save time because you don't have to drive anywhere and you can find websites with the wares you want in 5 minutes with a Google search.
    • You save energy in two forms: it costs less and does less harm to the earth when you run an internet search than it does for you to drive to the mall and back home. Also, you don't have to wear yourself out walking around the mall to go to every store that you need to.
  2. You can shop and compare from multiple stores at once, in the same browser.
    • The next time you're at the mall and you see a pair of pants you like but you want to compare them to the pants that they have in the store down the hall, you have no way of doing that without getting tackled by a security guard in the end.
    • Using the internet you can read reveiws and compare your pants to any other pants your little heart may desire without the fear of getting any shoplifting charges added to your rap sheet.
  3. You can find exactly what you want instead of settling for something close.
    • There are lots of times when I go shopping I have a picture of something in my mind but I can't find it anywhere and I end up settling for something that's close but may be something that I don't necessarily want.
    • You may have trouble finding all the eco-friendly products that you need at a store near you. Rather than drive all around town, you can check around online and find exactly what you want.
I found a couple articles that are worth reading about the benefits of shopping online, for you and the environment. This EcoIQ article sums it up very well and while this New York Times article may not be about online shopping, it talks about how shopping malls affect our environment. Quite interesting.

The bottom line is, if you can get everything in one trip at the same store without spending a bundle to get there, then shopping in the real world is the way to go. If you know that what you want is going to be hard to find then I think that online shopping is the way to go. Use your head, be smart, and shop on my greenie friends.

1 comment:

blog hopper said...

Q: when you buy things, how many different UPS trucks does it take to get to you?

I recently bought a table. Via online package tracking, I watched as it went from a warehouse in NJ to a distributor in Florida to a packager in Illinois then on a truck to Texas. Lots of criss-crossing the country, wouldn't you say?

Not to mention all the packaging that comes along with online purchases. A couple of books from Amazon.com will likely come in a couple of boxes. I think I'd rather make the trip to the store and get them there. Besides, Borders is generally in or near a mall anyway, just don't make multiple trips. Pick a Saturday and get all your shopping done at once.

And one more point that someone who really wanted to crunch the numbers could argue, how much energy are you wasting by using a compute at work or otherwise that could be saved by browsing websites? (I'm guilty of this too). Besides wasted company time.