Black Friday 50 Times More Carbon-Intensive Than Cyber Monday

While the post-Thanksgiving shopping weekend is far behind us, we’ve got some data for you that can aid the rest of your holiday shopping this year and get you ready for the deals of Black Friday and Cyber Monday next year. According to a report from GigaOM Pro research partner MindClick SGM (subscription required), in-store shopping on Black Friday is 50 times more carbon-intensive than Cyber Monday’s online shopping. The report suggests that the higher carbon emissions of in-store holiday shopping are largely a result of the store’s infrastructure, as well as transportation to and from the store.

On Cyber Monday this year, we’d been looking for any possible data on this subject, and after finding nothing, we got our research crew to crunch the numbers themselves. The GigaOM Pro and MindClick report seems to be the first comprehensive study solely focused on this subject. The data is significant, in that it gives both businesses and consumers more information about how retail habits can impact climate change and enable them to make decisions about their behavior.

From the consumer perspective, there’s yet another reason to avoid taking to the congested roads and malls during one of the busiest shopping days of the year. While online purchases accounted for about 23 percent of this year’s anticipated Thanksgiving weekend sales, that translates into less than 2 percent of the total related carbon emissions.

As shoppers turn to the web, their carbon impact will drop further. Fortunately, more post-holiday weekend shoppers turned to the web in 2009 than in previous years. Despite the weak economy, research firm comScore, which tracks online spending, predicted a slight 3 percent rise in holiday online spending in 2009, to $28.8 billion from $28 billion last year.

For retailers, the study suggests that a focus on in-store practices could have a substantial impact on their per-dollar carbon footprint. MindClick’s research shows that the difference in carbon emissions of brick-and-mortar shopping vs. e-commerce, in general, is a factor of 15. The largest share of that difference is linked to the local retail store’s presence; improving the performance of that infrastructure — through LEED for Retail and monitoring the supply chain, for example — could go a long way toward reducing a company’s impact.

The shift toward online commerce is part of the overall trend of IT leading to dematerialization, or virtual goods and services replacing physical goods. Dematerialization, which also includes video conferencing to reduce physical travel or buying digital music instead of CDs, could prevent 500 million tons of carbon emissions by 2020 (which is a little less than Australia’s total emissions in 2005), according to The Climate Group’s Smart2020 report. Infotech and communications technology can reduce carbon emissions across sectors by an anticipated 15 percent over business as usual by 2020.

One thing the research report didn’t take into consideration was the energy consumption of Internet use itself. In part, this decision was made due to time constraints, since we wanted the report out before the holiday shopping season was over. With further study, we would expect the carbon emissions associated with online shopping to be slightly higher.

Image courtesy of Akamai.