The Environmental Impact of Online Shopping and What You Can Do To Make It Better

Written by George Mazzella, Nori’s VP of Sales and Business Development 

In this article: 
  • The Carbon Emissions Behind Online Shopping 
  • The Last Mile: An Emission-Intensive Leg of the Journey
  • The Net Zero Journey and Remaining Emissions
  • Carbon Removal Credits: Balancing the Equation

American online shopping is a vast digital expanse, where the search for convenience meets the carbon footprint conundrum. Let's take a closer look at the environmental impact of clicking 'buy now' and dive a bit deeper into your shopping journey’s relationship with the environment.

The Carbon Emissions Behind Online Shopping

In today's world, almost anything can be purchased online and delivered to your doorstep with the click of a button. This convenience, however, has a price and our planet is footing the bill. How steep of a price? Let's dig in and see. 

Let’s start with numbers in the digital shopping realm. Shopify data suggests the average online store converts at about 1.76% — meaning only 1 in every 56 site visitors actually ends up clicking 'buy.' Now, pair that with the fact that visitors browse ~7.8 pages on average (via Similarweb) before making the big decision to buy or bounce.

On average, each page visit emits 0.5 grams of CO2. Multiply 0.5 by our 56 visitors and the 7.8 pages they wander through, and you’ll land at 218.4 grams of CO2 for each online sale. Scale this number to the total, global number of annual online purchases and you get more than 12.11 million tonnes of CO2 emitted…  and that's only one part of the carbon footprint of our e-shopping spree! 

The Last Mile: An Emission-Intensive Leg of the Journey

The so-called “last mile” of a parcel’s journey from distribution depot to doorstep is notoriously carbon-heavy (see Clean Mobility: The last mile). This stage often involves individual parcels being transported in less-than-fully loaded vehicles across suburban and urban landscapes. The carbon output of delivering a single parcel can be significant — accounting for up to 50% of the delivery’s total CO2 emissions! Optimized delivery routes and full loads can help mitigate emissions alongside the transition towards electric vehicles (EVs) for delivery fleets. While EVs are a greener alternative, they too have a carbon footprint, though smaller, underscoring the need for a more comprehensive approach to reducing (and removing) emissions across the entire e-commerce supply chain.

The Net Zero Journey and Remaining Emissions

Existing e-commerce infrastructure, from energy-expending online browsing to long-haul cargo flights carrying packages across the world, contributes significantly to global emissions. The journey towards net-zero online shopping is underway, with many companies aiming to significantly reduce their carbon footprints through the adoption of cleaner energy sources, sustainable packaging, and electric delivery vehicles. However, reducing emissions often isn’t enough. 

Even when companies have significantly reduced their emissions, there are remaining emissions that should be neutralized in alignment with long-term science-based targets for reaching net zero. These remaining, hard-to-abate emissions can be addressed with carbon removal credits.

Carbon Removal Credits: Balancing the Equation

Purchasing carbon removal credits is a key way to address the remaining emissions from online shopping. Carbon removals can come in various forms, including soil carbon credits that support CO2 sequestration via regenerative agriculture, direct air capture credits that support permanent carbon removal and storage, and more. Let’s look at some of these key solutions.

Regenerative agriculture can revitalize soil health, enhancing its ability to sequester carbon naturally. This method can not only draw down CO2 from the atmosphere but also has been shown to improve biodiversity, water retention, and crop yields, offering a nature-forward approach to carbon removal with co-benefits that support agricultural sustainability. 

Carbon removal technology can also be engineered to pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. Direct air capture (DAC) technology presents a cutting-edge solution that extracts CO2 directly from the air and then stores it safely underground or in products, providing an easy-to-measure, permanent climate change mitigation tool.

Both approaches contribute to a comprehensive carbon management strategy. Purchasing carbon removal credits from these project types allows companies (or consumers) to compensate for their hard-to-abate emissions, driving the transition towards a more sustainable economy. Together, these strategies form a robust framework for businesses to not only neutralize their carbon footprint but also contribute to global climate resilience.

The environmental impact of our online shopping habits in the U.S. is a complex web of choices and consequences. In a perfect world, we’d decarbonize entirely and people would only buy the essentials. But realistically, people are not going to stop shopping and logistics companies cannot snap their fingers and convert to 100% EV and renewable energy (and even if they did, there would still be a carbon footprint). That work is crucial but it takes time. Programs like the ones described above are a means to accelerate positive impact and bridge the time gap between launching effective decarbonization and reaching sufficient scale.

With carbon removal, businesses can drive immediate and verifiable change that enables shoppers to shop in a way that’s gentler on the planet — or even driving net positive impact. By leading the charge on prioritizing sustainability, we can collectively contribute to a greener online shopping future, one parcel at a time.

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Want to learn more about how you can credibly neutralize shipping emissions? Learn more or get in touch.