A comparative analysis of carbon emissions from online retailing of fast moving consumer goods

Online retailing can lower the environmental impact of shopping under specific circumstances. As a result of the numerous variables involved, most of the studies that have compared the carbon footprints of online and conventional retailing only take a partial view. To make a more holistic assessment, this study develops a framework that accounts for all the relevant environmental factors relating to retail/e-commerce activities. Variables related to consumer shopping behaviour such as basket size, transport mode, trip length and trip frequency are included in the analysis. This framework is used to build a Life Cycle Analysis model. The model is applied to different online retail methods for fast-moving consumer goods in the United Kingdom. We find that, within the “last mile” link to the home, the nature of the consumer's behaviour in terms of travel, choice of e-fulfilment method and basket size are critical factors in determining the environmental sustainability of e-commerce. The nature and routing of van deliveries, the amount and type of packaging used, and the energy efficiency of shop and e-fulfilment centre operations are also identified as significant contributors to climate change potential. The results of this study indicate ways in which e-commerce can be made more environmentally sustainable, encouraging consumers to reduce complementary shopping trips and maximise the number of items per delivery. This study identifies the strengths and weaknesses of a range of e-retail channels and provides a basis for future research on the environmental sustainability of online retailing of fast-moving consumer goods.

Loon, Patricia van, Lieven Deketele, Joost Dewaele, Alan McKinnon, and Christine Rutherford. 2015. “A comparative analysis of carbon emissions from online retailing of fast moving consumer goods.” Journal of Cleaner Production, Bridges for a more sustainable future: Joining Environmental Management for Sustainable Universities (EMSU) and the European Roundtable for Sustainable Consumption and Production (ERSCP) conferences, 106 (November): 478–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2014.06.060.

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