Is Online Shopping Worse for the Planet than Going to the Mall?


You may be reading this blog in between pointing-and-clicking your way through your holiday shopping list; perhaps you’re even patting yourself on the back about all the fuel you’re saving by not driving around buying the gifts in person. But depending on where you live and where on the Internet you shop, buying things online could actually be worse for the environment than hitting your local mall.

All those shipping materials add up — last year, New York City’s Department of Sanitation reported a 21 percent jump in the amount of cardboard and mixed paper left on the curbs. And in big cities like New York, where many people do their shopping by mass transit anyway, the fuel savings of not hitting the stores can be pretty negligible. That isn’t to say that people who go to stores don’t then go on to ship their goods, it’s merely an illustration of how going online doesn’t automatically equal going greener.

Where there’s a collective will (and money to be made), there’s a way: lately, an increasing number of choices for the eco-conscious online shopper have been popping up. Sites that sell environmentally friendly goods, like Ecomall and Gaiam, have been around for years, but not everyone wants to make a statement with their gifts, nor do they want to hear little Johnny complain when he gets a Nalgene bottle instead of an iPod.

An interesting new option is EarthMoment, which was launched in October, and bills itself as a “carbon offset comparison shopping site.” The brainchild of Ogden publishers (Utne Reader, Mother Earth News), it’s teamed up with over 1,000 companies to offer 15 million different goods from major retailers including Apple and Borders. If you end up buying something through the EarthMoment site, the retailer pays them a commission, half of which they invest in carbon offsetting (managed by Now you can feel a little bit better about adding that extra gift and having it shipped to yourself.



Interesting article. You’d always think it would be better to the environment to shop from home but now I’m not so sure.


I like to shopping online. No need to go to the mall. I think it save my time. and good secure.

Mac's Mall

Good article. While major metro shopping might not include much driving, all those other people who have to drive 10-30 miles to their shopping centers more than make up for it. At least the cardboard and paper can be recycled, unlike the gasoline used.


I would agree with you E-Bay prices are well over priced they thing they are the best but there are a lot of companies out there who are cheaper and do a better job.
I have stoped using them now I use a site called Blujay they are really good FREE listing and we get a link back to my online shop

Decorative living
UK Online Gifts Shop

beds critic phil

I can understand giving incentives to or by businesses and manufacturers who engage in green friendly practices when it comes to shipping. I understand that people living in the larger metro cities are obviously getting more products online leading to more cardboard and packaging at the curb. I guess coming up with ways to help be more green with the packaging could be helpful in this situation.

Jason Morris

It is interesting to also think about the impact of additional UPS trucks and FedEx planes as a result of all of the shipping that happens. For those of us that intentionally buy fuel-efficient cars it is probably a bit better to drive to the mall and pick something up yourself. That said, those goods still have to be shipped to the stores or warehouses anyway, so the fuel consumption and emissions in the supply chain may not be as big of a factor. Better to get them something from a place you know is green or maybe a service that involves no shipping, packaging, etc.

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