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How to reduce the carbon footprint of Cyber Monday

Convenient online shopping combined with deep discounts has helped make Black Friday and Cyber Monday some of the most massive shopping days of the year. During 2018 online sales hit a record of $7.9 billion, and even higher numbers are expected this year. [1] While this growing shopping day is incredible for finding deals on electronics, clothes, and everything in between, there are some unintended consequences. All of that online shopping creates a gigantic carbon footprint that has some far-reaching effects on the environment. However, if you like to online shop, there are still ways you can enjoy Cyber Monday while reducing your impact at the same time.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Cyber Monday?

Countless things, both large and small, contribute to Cyber Monday’s carbon footprint. From the shipping and packaging to the products you purchase, everything has an impact. The average home delivery for a single package produces around 6 ounces of C02. When you multiply that number by the millions of packages that arrive on peoples’ porches, then you can start to see how large Cyber Monday’s footprint really is. [2]

The Environmental Costs of Online Shopping

While those numbers are not promising, the reality is that online shopping may still be better for the environment than traditional brick and mortar retail stores. One study from MIT even found purchasing a toy in a conventional retail outlet could produce a carbon footprint that is nearly 50% larger than buying the same toy from an online store. [3] While online shopping may be better than the alternative, it is still not perfect. Below are a few of the most significant ways Cyber Monday and other online shopping causes harm to the environment.

Electronics

Electronics like phones, tablets, and other gadgets are on the top of most people’s holiday shopping lists, but have you ever wondered what happens to those same electronics when they become outdated? Once those electronics get thrown out, studies have shown that only 20% of them get recycled, while the rest are tossed into landfills. [4] Worse yet, some of those electronics contain toxic materials like mercury and lead that could further pollute the soil, air, and water. [5]

Clothes

The fashion industry is one of the leading polluters, and the quick, disposable fashion typical to Cyber Monday and other sales is a big contributor. The average family throws out around 65 pounds of clothes each year, and 75% of that goes right to the landfill. Clothes made from synthetic fibers are not biodegradable and could take up to 200 years before they decompose. [6]

Plastics

From the products themselves to the packaging they are shipped in, plastic plays a part in nearly every aspect of retail supply chains, and that is bad news for the environment. When not disposed of properly, much of that plastic can harm the planet. In fact, nearly 8 million tons of plastics get dumped into the oceans every year, causing garbage patches and increased pollution of the world’s water and air. [7]

Packaging

If you have ever gone on an Amazon Prime shopping spree and seen the cardboard boxes begin to pile up, then you may have an idea of the packaging problem sales like Cyber Monday can create. Online e-commerce sites are consuming more and more cardboard packaging every year, with some estimates at over 35 million tons. While this packaging can be recycled, there is still an environmental impact of energy and water needed, not to mention the transportation and carbon emissions it takes to go from a recycling plant to the manufacturer and back to your home. [8]

Shipping

Online shopping for the holidays, including Cyber Monday, produces a massive amount of package deliveries. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is estimating more than 800 million package deliveries between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, not to mention other primary mail services like FedEx and UPS. Combined, those mail trucks zig-zagging across the country are sure to produce a sizable carbon footprint. [9]

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint on Cyber Monday

While refraining from online shopping altogether can eliminate your contribution to Cyber Monday’s global impact on the environment, there are some simple, practical steps you can take while still partaking in online deals from your favorite retailers. So, before you hit that check out button, remember to follow the advice below.

Prioritize purchases from sustainable brands and products.

The first step towards greener online shopping is purchasing from brands that prioritize the environment by offering sustainable products and services. The demand for green products may be on the rise. Nearly 73 percent of Millennials globally are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. [10]

Skip the extra packaging and plastic.

While not every online retailer will give you the option, it is important to pass on the extra packaging whenever possible. This step can help eliminate waste and prevent more plastic from eventually ending up in a landfill, or even worse, a floating garbage patch in the ocean.

Combine your shipments.

Combining shipments can help you prevent over a quarter of your potential carbon emissions. For example, if you have two separate items that ship separately, the carbon emissions will be around 35% higher than if you had combined the items into one package. [11]

Select slower shipping.

While overnight, 1-day, and 2-day shipping options are convenient and sometimes necessary, slower shipping options may, in fact, be better for the environment. Air shipping and rush deliveries often lead to partial loads and other inefficiencies that drive up the emissions needed to get a package to a customer on time. [12]

Reduce your Cyber Monday footprint with carbon offsets.

While large online retailers like Amazon have committed to start measuring their emissions and switch over to more sustainable practices, many of these improvements are still years away. [13] If you want to neutralize the environmental impact of your shopping this Cyber Monday, then carbon offsets may be your best bet. Verified offsets, like those offered by terrapass, will help reduce 1,000 lbs of carbon for less than $5—helping eliminate your potential impact for all of your Holiday shopping. To learn more, you can visit our Personal Carbon Offsets page and customize an amount that fits your needs or enroll in one of our yearly subscription plans.

SOURCES:

  1. Lauren Thomas. “Cyber Monday Sales Break a Record, with $7.9 Billion Spent Online, Adobe Analytics Says.” CNBC, CNBC, 28 Nov. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/11/27/cyber-monday-sales-break-record-a-record-7point9-billion-spent-online.html.
  2. “In Store or Online – What’s the Environmentally Friendliest Way to Shop?” Ensia, ensia.com/features/environmental-cost-online-shopping-delivery/.
  3. “Environmental Analysis of US Online Shopping.” Center for Transportation and Logistics, ctl.mit.edu/pub/thesis/environmental-analysis-us-online-shopping.
  4. Baldé, C. P., et al. “The Global E-waste Monitor 2017.” http://ewastemonitor.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Global-E-waste-Monitor-2017-electronic-spreads_Foreword_2_3.pdf.
  5. Colley, John. “Cycling FAQ.” E, www.sesotc.com/ewaste-faq.
  6. “Environmental Impacts of the Fashion Industry.” SustainYourStyle, www.sustainyourstyle.org/old-environmental-impacts.
  7. Parker, Laura. “Eight Million Tons of Plastic Dumped in Ocean Every Year.” New Study Shows Plastic in Oceans Is on the Rise, 10 Oct. 2017, www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/2/150212-ocean-debris-plastic-garbage-patches-science/.
  8. Tfl. “What Is the Real Impact of the World’s Biggest Shopping Days?” The Fashion Law, The Fashion Law, 26 Nov. 2016, www.thefashionlaw.com/home/what-is-the-real-impact-of-black-friday-cyber-monday-shopping.
  9. “Hundreds of Millions of Holiday Packages Expected Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.” USPS Will Deliver More than 20 Million Packages per Day This Holiday Season – Newsroom – About.usps.com, about.usps.com/newsroom/national-releases/2019/1107-20-million-packages-to-be-delivered-daily-this-holiday-season.htm.
  10. Curtin, Melanie. “73 Percent of Millennials Are Willing to Spend More Money on This 1 Type of Product.” Inc.com, Inc., 30 Mar. 2018, www.inc.com/melanie-curtin/73-percent-of-millennials-are-willing-to-spend-more-money-on-this-1-type-of-product.html.
  11. Insights, Bain. “How Retailers Can Reduce The Carbon Footprint From Online Shopping [Infographic].” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 May 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/baininsights/2017/05/22/how-retailers-can-reduce-the-carbon-footprint-from-online-shopping-infographic/#6a207cd6404a.
  12. Paddison, Laura. “Why You Should Think Twice About Choosing Free 2-Day Shipping For Online Shopping.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 6 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/2-day-shipping-environment_n_5a0e1374e4b045cf43706864.
  13. Staff, Day One. “The Climate Pledge.” US Day One Blog, Amazon, 27 Sept. 2019, blog.aboutamazon.com/sustainability/the-climate-pledge.


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