How Does E-Commerce Contribute to Climate Change?

How Does E-Commerce Contribute to Climate Change? 1
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“E-commerce” and “climate change” sound like two different entities in two alien worlds. It’s difficult to associate one with the other. However, there is growing evidence that suggests it is happening.

How E-Commerce Worsens Climate Change

The growth of e-commerce is unprecedented, thanks to a faster Internet connection and more store options. According to Statista, by 2023, its global retail market would hit $6.5 trillion. That’s almost a trillion-dollar increase compared to the previous year. Also, this figure doesn’t include the earnings yet from B2B transactions.

These insane numbers could mean:

  • Higher demand for transportation
  • Need for bigger spaces that will serve as fulfillment facilities
  • An incredibly large amount of inventory
  • Millions of packaging delivered to customers

All these could also reveal the crucial link between e-commerce and climate change.

Usually, when people think of climate change, they picture vehicles emitting high volumes of carbon or even cattle releasing methane from their gut. They also refer to air pollution from factories and forest fires.

E-commerce, though, can complicate that. First, there’s plastic. Plastic manufacturing could release harmful fumes into the environment, such as vinyl hydrochloride and benzene. Even when they end up in the landfills, other chemicals can leak from the material and eventually evaporate.

Large warehouses could also imply higher electrical consumption and, thus, increased demand for fossil fuels. While the United States is shifting to renewable energy, the country still gets at least 80% of its power from coal, natural gas, and fossil fuels.

As e-commerce becomes more competitive, companies offer shorter shipping times, such as same-day deliveries. However, to meet this, businesses may need to fill cargo trucks that are usually running on diesel. The heavy load can make the vehicles less efficient and thus need more fuel, which is actually a worse pollutant than fuels found in cars.

How Can E-Commerce Businesses Change That?

John Kabat-Zinn, the creator of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) technique, said it best: “The little things? The little moments? They’re not little.” Even the slightest changes businesses make can already help decrease the industry’s effects on climate change as long as they do them as a collective.

Here are three ideas:

  1. Invest in reverse logistics –A reverse logistics program works by designing a “final destination” for unused materials or rejected and returned products. Instead of crowding the landfills, companies can repurpose them for something else. The program can, therefore, help boost revenue, make the business more efficient, and, most of all, reduce or even eliminate waste.
  2. Use sustainable packaging – Using green products, especially for the packaging, can possibly drive the final costs of the item you’re selling. However, consumers are also willing to pay a premium price for that. Also, as businesses catch on this trend, the costs for these packages may eventually drop soon.
  3. Support green initiatives – Policies matter since their impact is more wide-ranging. The planet is more likely to feel positive effects faster. The US government, for example, hopes that renewable energy will surpass coal by 2021 and natural gas by 2045. Companies like Paccar are now offering zero-emission trucks that run on hydrogen fuel cells. In 2018, DHL released its sustainability roadmap.

Unsustainability due to climate change will come back to hunt your business unless you participate in preventing that from happening. Do something now before it’s too late.

Kelly Passarelly
My name is Blake Gowing, a writer. I have written for various publications including The Daily Life and their needs.

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