Internet shopping may be harming the environment

Readers of The Times woke up this morning to discover that many of them were not as “green” as they thought they were. According to the newspaper, Internet shoppers could be doing more harm to the environment than good.

That’s because of a two fold effect Internet shopping has had. Firstly, it has helped increase the number of vans on the road, pumping out more emissions than a typical car. Secondly, people tend to drive to shops have a look at goods and then drive back home without buying so they can order online.

Add to this the number of unsuccessful deliveries because people are out when the van driver calls, and you can see that there is significant extra traffic on the roads as a result of Internet shopping.

For several years now, I have not understood why delivery firms deliver during daytime when most of the people who they need to get signatures from are out. One delivery driver told me that around 80% of all deliveries are unsuccessful. That means they take back van loads of goods to their depots and then we have to drive to them to collect them or arrange for the goods to be redelivered when we are at home.

The simple way out of this is for delivery companies to deliver between 6pm and 10pm, say, and at weekends. Some are beginning to change, but the distribution industry appears to be stuck in the 1970s and has yet to realise the world has changed around it. Evening deliveries would certainly help reduce the impact of Internet shopping on the environment.

But what about those shoppers who trek off to the stores so they can see and feel what they then drive back home to buy online? Their journey serves no purpose other than the psychological confirmation that their purchase decision is the right one, or that they don’t want to buy the item after all. In either event, their car journey is not necessary and contributes to environmental problems.

Luckily, the Internet will come to the rescue in the not too distant future. Video when added to shopping web sites will help people gain experience of products that they cannot gain from a static image. Also, several researchers are working on the transmission of the sense of touch via the Internet. Together with 3D technologies we will be able to “feel” products we want to buy, saving us the trouble of travelling.

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