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Online Shopping May Actually Increase Pollution

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the it's-not-easy-being-green dept.

Businesses 410

destinyland writes "British researchers have reached a startling conclusion. Unless online shoppers order 25 items at a time, they're polluting more than if they shopped at their local mall. An environmental benefit only occurs 'if online shopping replaces 3.5 traditional shopping trips, or if 25 orders are delivered at the same time, or, if the distance traveled to where the purchase is made is more than 50 kilometers. Shopping online does not offer net environmental benefits unless these criteria are met.' The study was conducted by Newcastle University's Institution of Engineering and Technology, which blames the environmental impact of transportation, warning that 'policy makers must do their homework to ensure that rebound effects do not negate the positive benefits of their policy initiatives.' But one technology site notes the study was conducted in Britain, which could have an impact on its conclusions."

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410 comments

*thwack!* (2, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643644)

But one technology site notes the study was conducted in Britain, which could have an impact on its conclusions."

Ya think, Dinozzo?

Re:*thwack!* (3, Funny)

Pojut (1027544) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643698)

I believe that's what the old folks call an "I coulda had a V-8" moment...

Merry olde England, a factor? Certes, ye jest! (3, Informative)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643982)

Last time I was in London (some years now), I was appalled at the traffic, and the disorganized nature of the city's layout. Can't say I've experienced anything like that in the US, and I've driven in a lot of US cities. Los Angeles and every Florida city I've ever been in come to mind as the most annoying, because they're so spread-out; it takes more driving to get anywhere, and that might be comparable on some level. Where I live (Montana), we're definitely in the "over 50km" class; heck, it's 140 miles to the nearest city, and that's not even in my state. If I want to shop in a city without sales tax (and oh yes, you can bet I do) then staying in-state, it's a 300 mile drive, or 482km. As you might imagine, we're definitely fans of Internet shopping!

Re:Merry olde England, a factor? Certes, ye jest! (4, Informative)

EdZ (755139) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644078)

That's mainly because parts of London were laid out prior to the horse & cart, and the vast majority pre-automobile.
Lay out a 'modern' city in grid-form, and you get... Ugh... Milton Keynes.

Re:Merry olde England, a factor? Certes, ye jest! (4, Informative)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644320)

Yeah, I get why... I'm just saying, gee, that might affect an analysis of how efficient home delivery vs. local shopping might be.

Lay out a 'modern' city in grid-form, and you get... Ugh... Milton Keynes.

Not always. Look at Manhattan... nominally laid out in a grid, yet down in Greenwich Village, there's at least one street that actually crosses itself, I don't remember which one anymore. I think city designers might do a lot of drugs. Or simply delight in confusing people.

Re:Merry olde England, a factor? Certes, ye jest! (5, Funny)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644242)

Last time I was in London (some years now), I was appalled at the traffic, and the disorganized nature of the city's layout

Well, we tried burning it down in 1666, but that didn't quite work. Paris did a better job, but they had Napoleon.

Re:Merry olde England, a factor? Certes, ye jest! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644258)

London grew naturally, over hundreds of years - it wasn't designed for car traffic, which is actually a good thing for the long term.

Re:*thwack!* (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644306)

I believe that's what the old folks call an "I coulda had a V-8" moment...

I think it's more akin to House saying, "You're an idiot."

Begs the question. (5, Insightful)

RightSaidFred99 (874576) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643690)

Who shops online for environmental reasons?

Re:Begs the question. (3, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643804)

(raises hand)

Although I admit my main motive is not solely pollution, but also eliminating the 5 dollar and 45-60 minute cost of the drive. I'd like to work from home for the same reason.

Re:Begs the question. (2, Interesting)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644162)

Who shops online for environmental reasons?

I know people who do too. It never made sense to me either. I do it for the convenience, but not for anything I need to try on before deciding, like shoes.

Similar thought, I was all revved up to try Best Buy order online and pick up at the store service until a friend did it. He was livid, waiting all day and finally having to call to see if the items had been picked, then going there and finding they picked some of the wrong items. His advice: see if they have everything you want in stock then go there yourself and pick it from the shelf.

Re:Begs the question. (2, Insightful)

jridley (9305) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644240)

I've got better advice. Stay the hell away from Best Buy. What a hole. Moronic salespeople, highest prices around, bad selection, worst technicians on the planet, and a corporate policy to intentionally drive off people who are actually shopping for a good deal.

Re:Begs the question. (2, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644366)

I tried this once too, a cheap netbook. First they claimed they could not find it, then they tried to give me the wrong one, then they refused to give me one off the shelf since I had already paid and would have to take the unit they set aside for me. It took 45 minutes to get a ~$200 toy they had on the damn shelf.

Re:Begs the question. (1)

jridley (9305) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644232)

I do. But I think I may qualify for one of those exemptions. On the rare occasions that I do go out to buy something, it's at least 40 kilometers if I just go somewhere and back again, and usually it's more than 50 kilometers.

But I also shop online to save my own time. It's at least an hour, more likely two of my time to go out and buy something. Translated into working overtime instead, that shopping trip cost me $50 or more just in time wasted.

Also, I have access to much better information and can make a more informed purchase when I'm online. In a store, I just have to go by what the thing looks like in a plastic coffin, and I don't have nearly the choice I do online.

Re:Begs the question. (2, Informative)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644470)

Yeah, really. I shop at Newegg to get cheaper computer parts (before I knew about it, I was going to places like Walmart, and I've seen 120GB external hard drives for over $100 there!).

ultimate low impact (5, Funny)

jewishbaconzombies (1861376) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643708)

The moral of the story? Save the planet. Kill yourself.

Re:ultimate low impact (5, Funny)

compro01 (777531) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643870)

Do you have any idea how much gas people will burn to get to your funeral? Or how much GHGs will be released to make your coffin? Or methane your rotting corpse will release or how much energy would be used to cremate it?

Re:ultimate low impact (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644090)

Do you have any idea how much gas people will burn to get to your funeral? Or how much GHGs will be released to make your coffin? Or methane your rotting corpse will release or how much energy would be used to cremate it?

You're right...kill all your friend and family first, eat them all, then kill yourself by jumping into a tank full of barracuda.

Re:ultimate low impact (1)

TheGothicGuardian (1138155) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644160)

The only logical answer is to nuke everyone from orbit.

Re:ultimate low impact (4, Funny)

gilleain (1310105) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644264)

Think of the rocket fuel! No, no the best plan will be to form a giant human pyramid, and when the topmost human reaches a point where gravity is weak enough, he can start pulling everyone else into space.

Then we all just drift peacefully off...

Re:ultimate low impact (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644266)

It's the only way to be sure.

Re:ultimate low impact (3, Insightful)

bm_luethke (253362) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644164)

Not much energy to cremate if we all killed ourselves - no one to run the crematoriums. Further the Methane from rotting would be less than many natural source we have now - plus since it is all in one big month long rotting fest it isn't like years of accumulation. It's not like the earth doesn't have natural scrubbers of green house gasses (otherwise known as plants and many types of bacteria).

There are two basic ways for us to lower pollution output: stop living our modern high energy lifestyles or have an extreme technological breakthrough. I doubt the latter is going to occur anytime soon, even if it was discovered today there would be no way we could mass produce it enough to effectively change over our lifestyles and infrastructure (and it would have to be massive gains for it to most likely be worth the energy cost of the constructions of the new technology and recycling the waste from the old). Even if telecommuting and online line shopping saved some it is like trying to stop a hurricane by building a 4x8 wall to block the winds. There is no way for us to simply make minor shifts in technology yet live the same lifestyle and change anything - indeed we tend to not fully understand the issues yet enough to know if changes are often a net positive or negative (other than we know if we killed off most of us and went back to a nomadic life it would immediately stop).

If the situation is as dire as many say it is we are simply doomed one way or another - the ultimate question then becomes do we accept that and do what has to be done or wait till it degenerates into anarchy and only the strong survive. While the GP is a joke, it is unfortunately the only conclusion one has to draw if the models are correct. If the models are incorrect and it is not a dire situation then we are all wasting time too. Personally I'll take the slow way as we will find out eventually who is correct and other than it happening in a longer period of time the end result is going to be the same, but in the end it *is* "Save the planet, Kill yourself" if the predictions are correct, its just the manner of how we do it and the amount of time it takes.

Re:ultimate low impact (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644234)

"Do you have any idea how much gas people will burn to get to your funeral?"

Less than you use a month.

"Or methane your rotting corpse will release"

Not much, bodily fermentation isn't like a cow's stomach.

"how much energy would be used to cremate it?"

Not too much, still.

Re:ultimate low impact (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644150)

Or just "consume" less crap.

Re:ultimate low impact (5, Funny)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644276)

"The moral of the story? Save the planet. Kill yourself."

Do I get pollution tax credits for killing others?

Kind of short on details (5, Insightful)

dracocat (554744) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643710)

The article talked a lot about transportation costs. Were they just comparing transportation costs? What about the environmental impact of keeping the A/C running and lights going all day in the store?

Very very short on details.

Re:Kind of short on details (2, Interesting)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643862)

The store where I used to work shortened its day by about 5 hours. They open one hour later, close 1/2 an hour earlier, and the janitorial staff doesn't show up at 6am anymore, instead waiting until just prior to opening (11am). That reduces A/C costs (both dollars and CO2) by about 20%.

Of course the store didn't do this for altruistic reasons. It did it because they are only getting half as many shoppers since the Web took over.

Re:Kind of short on details (3, Informative)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644202)

Unfortunately the linked article doesn't contain enough meat for meaningful discussion. If this is just another [sandia.gov] fairly blind application of Jevons Paradox [wikipedia.org] (soon to become a slashdot meme!) then I'm not too interested.

How many orders ship on one UPS truck? (5, Insightful)

crovira (10242) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644286)

Its not the end purchaser who realizes some environmental benefits, its the shipper.

Its not about Joe Schmoe's environmental impact, its about Amazon and UPS and Fed Ex and USPS combined carbon footprint versus the environmental impact of all the Joe Schmoes out there.

This was bogus science starting from a false premise.

*Startling* conclusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33643716)

TFA is probably written by someone who've never bought anything online, and thinks online shopping = goods delivered by teleportation.

Next up, British Nobel prize winner discovered eating more increases pollution.

The number reason for global warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33643730)

Vlad Farted.

I don't understand (4, Insightful)

iONiUM (530420) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643742)

So hundreds of people can be served by 1 computer (no need for sales people, which would require many to drive to/from the store), at home (they don't have to travel themselves), using the power they have on at home anyways (no need for store power), and this is somehow more than the store? I understand the actual product has shipping pollution, but I mean come on, that can't make up for everything else.

I'm confused.

Re:I don't understand (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33643848)

The product can be shipped to many people in the same street directly from an energy-efficient warehouse rather than from an energy-inefficient store. Goods can be plucked off the fields on demand (reducing the amount of time they need to be in cooled storage). Goods within expiry date are used more efficiently as the ones expiring earlier will be used earlier (smaller stores have very much a problem with expiring goods)...

No way I'll accept this at all without having seen the actual study.

Re:I don't understand (1)

Shadow99_1 (86250) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643890)

For the US this would make even less sense... Only 4 companies handle packages like: UPS, Fedex, USPS, and one I can't recall because I've never actually used it myself... Which would imply rather than every single person having to make their driving more efficient 4 companies would... That seems an order of magnitude easier to me...

Re:I don't understand (1)

TheGothicGuardian (1138155) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644180)

DHL?

Re:I don't understand (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644324)

Nope, they only handle international packages in the US. They used to do local delivery, but the management ignored all the advice they received about how to handle the US market. They closed domestic service late in 2008, IIRC.

Re:I don't understand (1)

jridley (9305) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644292)

DHL, Airborne plus thousands of independents. Also, Fedex Ground is a separate company from Fedex, sharing just the name. (Also, Fedex rocks, Fedex Ground sucks.) But that gets it up to 6 majors, and there may be more.

OK, DHL and Airborne aren't as big as the others but they're not small.

Re:I don't understand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644006)

This may be accurate if everyone purchased online, but they don't, and the article is about the current state of reality and not the made up fantasy one where one server is servicing all consumers.

Re:I don't understand (0)

jridley (9305) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644280)

I think a lot of it is shipping. When you order online, a single item gets stuffed into a box and shipped hundreds of miles, passing through many vehicles and hands. Very inefficient, especially given the packaging talents of some companies that put a SD memory card into a cubic-foot-sized box.

By contrast, items in stores are shipped surface using more optimal routes (less time pressure) and in bulk packaging. It's a lot cheaper in gas and everything to ship 1000 items at a time from a warehouse in a truck that's full of stuff going from that warehouse to that store and then have 1000 people come a few miles to a store and pick them up than it is to ship 1000 items from a warehouse to 1000 people's houses.

Re:I don't understand (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644326)

By contrast, items in stores are shipped surface using more optimal routes (less time pressure)

I see you've never been a truck driver.

Re:I don't understand (1)

syousef (465911) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644420)

There's nothing to be confused about. People simply lose the ability to think rationally once the emotive issue of the environment comes up. Instead they run around like headless chickens doing stupid things because their emotional buttons have been pushed.

Disagree (5, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643750)

The postwoman is already driving past my house every day. It takes no extra gasoline for her to carry that latest Amazon book or Electronic Boutique game with her.

Plus the freight trucks that move this crap across the country burn far less gas than if we all drove to the store. ~10,000 boxes carried in one truck is more efficient than 10,000 car trips.

Re:Disagree (5, Insightful)

jrumney (197329) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643782)

Plus the freight trucks that move this crap across the country burn far less gas than if we all drove to the store.

Apparently goods are teleported into stores, so those large freight trucks are only involved when you buy things online.

Really, the only variable is you driving to the store for a single purchase, vs a delivery driver including your house in their rounds (a slight detour from what they would have done anyway).

Re:Disagree (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644022)

Excellent point.

Re:Disagree (1)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644236)

Excellent point.

I haven't spent much time around high-rises, but the times I have seen UPS and FedEx show up it was like they emptied the whole truck just for one building. Like the rest of you are saying, it doesn't matter if each apartment is getting one item a day or not, that truck full of boxes is coming in every day.

Re:Disagree (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644336)

If you happen to live in an apartment, that's largely the case. But not entirely, Fed Ex will always use at least 2 trucks to service a building in the US. One for Fed Ex ground and one for Fed Ex special, or whatever it is that they call their air unit.

Re:Disagree (0)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643850)

The postwoman is already driving past my house every day. It takes no extra gasoline for her to carry that latest Amazon book or Electronic Boutique game with her.

The amount of gasoline consumed is directly proportional to the weight being carried. So, yes it does take extra gasoline even though she is driving past your house every day. And if she is actually 'driving past' (as opposed to 'stopping at') your house every day, then making that stop consumes additional gasoline as she must accelerate back to speed after stopping.

Re:Disagree (2, Insightful)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643922)

>>>The amount of gasoline consumed is directly proportional to the weight being carried.

A common misconception. Since her Suburban weighs around 5000 pounds the extra 2 pounds of my game or book make no measurable difference in the gasoline consumption. Put another way: Whether I carry 1 person or 4 persons in my car, I still get 35mpg regardless. The weight differential is not measurable because there are far more important factors in gasoline consumption, such as the tuning of the engine, how fast I drive (air resistance), and so on.

Re:Disagree (2, Insightful)

mysidia (191772) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644310)

However, the truck is only driving because it is carrying items around. A certain percentage of its trip is attributable to your item. Your item uses up a limited resource, physical volume in the vehicle.

And if your item is significantly heavy, for example, you are having a 500 pound lawnmower delivered, or say a really really big rock, it can have some increase in the gas consumption of the truck.

So yes, a certain amount of gasoline is attributable to carrying your particular item. That would be one of the following...

The total number units of items you have on the truck, divided by the total number of units the truck was loaded with, multiplied by the total gas the truck consumed from the start of its journey, until the end of its journey when all items were delivered.

Or... the total volume of your item, divided by the total volume of items carried, multiplied by total gas consumed.

The basic idea: by some miracle, if your item was the only item on the truck, then you were responsible for all the gas it consumed.

If there were two items on the truck, your item and some other person's item, of equal size: then the two of you, are equally responsible for about half the gas consumed by the truck.

Of course: this is on average. If you wanted to be precise, you would have to consider things like optimal routing; it is very possible the second delivery could require the truck to travel extra distance it would not have to travel, otherwise.

For example: if you had a friend from down the road ship you an item, versus your next door neighbor who was having an item shipped from a few thousand miles away.

It is also oversimplistic to assume just one truck -- shipping companies use many trucks, they even have separate trucks for delivery VS trucks to transport items between shipping centers, as this is more efficient.

Re:Disagree (2, Insightful)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644400)

You have entirely ignored that shipping companies attempt to maximize loads, either by volume or by weight. Except in corner cases that do not apply in the general shipping of books and CDs from Amazon, you will not find situations such as you describe.

The portion you have bolded is called a 'marginal cost'.

Re:Disagree (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644488)

I'm sure you'll be popular with the freight companies with your discovery that freight in bulk is weightless. They'll be able to stop using heavy trucks, and will be able to change to smartcars to haul their trailers instead.

Not exactly (1)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644012)

The amount of gasoline consumed is directly proportional to the weight being carried.

It's more like directly proportional to the total vehicle weight. A 5400 lb delivery vehicle is going to use a lot of fuel even if it's nearly empty.

Re:Disagree (1)

Nyeerrmm (940927) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644290)

Actually, the relationship between gas used, vehicle mass, and driving patterns is more complex.

When driving at constant speed, mass is of no consequence (except for second-order effects like tire rolling resistance). At constant speed, most of the useful energy from the drivetrain makes up for energy lost to air resistance, which is dependent on velocity, surface area, and drag coefficient.

Mass matters when accelerating and decelerating. However, when comparing a 2lb package to 3000lb vehicle thats going to be lost in the noise. It will make a difference for a semi hauling a lot of them, but in those cases starting/stopping is much less important than it is for a local mail route.

And of course, none of that accounts for the potential of a hybrid mail delivery vehicle, which stores and releases the energy from stopping and starting. While I'm usually skeptical of the advantages of hybrids, for something like a mail truck that makes frequent stops, it would be hugely advantageous.

Re:Disagree (1, Insightful)

ensignyu (417022) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643904)

It does take space, though. If the mail truck is full because lots of people are shipping stuff in the mail, they'd either have to do multiple runs or delay getting the package to you package. Or upgrade to those giant delivery trucks that UPS uses.

Besides shipping costs, though, online shopping currently generates a lot of excess packaging. Every time I order something online, I have to toss yet another cardboard box and the plastic bubble wrap in the recycle bin. I'd like to see some kind of reusable packaging.

Re:Disagree (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644444)

But the postal service is more likely to upgrade to lower-energy fleet (CNG or some sort of electric thing) than each and every household is, making the concentration of energy consumption beneficial.

>> cardboard box and the plastic bubble wrap
>> I'd like to see some kind of reusable packaging.

Does not compute.

Re:Disagree (2, Interesting)

hex0D (1890162) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644034)

T~10,000 boxes carried in one truck is more efficient than 10,000 car trips.

That is way too over simplified. A truck is still carrying 10K items from the factory 99% (or at least the vast majority) of the distance to your house whether it's to a shipping center or a store. From there, maybe 10K relatively fuel efficient personal vehicles driving to the store is preferable to 10K commercial truck deliveries.

Re:Disagree (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644350)

Which is why some retailers actually have multiple warehouses located throughout the country. Netflix and Gamefly are good examples, but Tigerdirect also does that and I'm sure that there's others. In fact shopatron makes that it's business model, handling and distributing orders based upon geography.

Re:Disagree (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644484)

Without hard numbers in a specific situation it's difficult to say for certain, but I have to imagine that 1,000 trucks (10 boxes each), running a warmed engine, on a route designed to maximize efficiency, in a fleet vehicle that might already use CNG, has to be more efficient than 10,000 cars being cold started and driven three miles to a store and back.

Now, if those 10,000 cars are stopping off at a store on the way home, as a slight detour, then the incremental energy costs are probably minimal, and I'd agree with you.

Re:Disagree (1)

ProppaT (557551) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644058)

You can't have it both ways. With the same logic, you could have picked up that same game while you were already at Target and had zero additional impact. If the truck is already driving by your house, I'm sure you're already driving by the store at some point.

Sure, the UPS truck is already out making rounds, but you add in all the extra stops for UPS/USPS/FedEx across the country due to people buying singular items off of Amazon just because it was a bit cheaper than the store and that adds up quickly. There are other tedious things to take into consideration too, such as bulk transport/freight vs. the trucks and airplanes shipping services use, etc. I don't know how that would pan out and I'm sure it'd be a full time job to straighten it out. Additionally, I think we also have to look at the fact that this article is focused on the UK. I'm assuming that a good deal of the online purchases in the UK come from outside of the UK, so it makes a bit more sense.

One last point, you make the assumption that the article is talking about environmental impact in the form of gas. You have to factor in all of the packaging (boxes, popcorn, plastic bags/bubbles, etc) involved vs. the pallets the store receives. Again, what doesn't negligible at first adds up over time.

Granted, the reason most of us shop online is because it can be ridiculously cheaper. We all do it and I don't see any of us changing anytime soon...but the article isn't "does the money saved in our pocket outweight the damage to the environment," it's "ordering a bunch of small things off the internet is wasteful." I know people with Amazon Prime accounts that will buy the silliest things off the internet just because they can.

Re:Disagree (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644070)

One thing i've noticed in the UK is that while small online purchases (one book, one game, a small bag of components etc) are indeed often sent through the ordinary post and delivered by the postman anything slightly bigger or more valuable than that and it will most likely be sent by a courier and there are a LOT of different couriers so presumablly their delivery density is pretty low.

Though what happens with electronic components makes the consumer stuff look positively eco friendly. Considerable overpackaging (CPC are particularly bad for this) and lots of stuff getting sent by air either because of farnell overnighting stuff around europe (if a component is out of stock in leeds farnell will send it directly from one of their other european warehouses) or because the only source available is in the US (hell some companies even send their FREE SAMPLES transatlantic by air!)

I'd love to see *all* the assumptions they make (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33643818)

Probably something like a delivery truck's entire trip is dedicated to YOUR package.

Watch this be used... (3, Insightful)

oDDmON oUT (231200) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643824)

For a "pollution" tax on online transactions, since sales taxes still fail to pass muster.

After all, "It's for the planet".

Re:Watch this be used... (1)

ScottCooperDotNet (929575) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644262)

Why is this a troll?

Really, what is my State Attorney General's office going to do to help with something out of state? Chuckle and say "contact the AG in that state" probably. So why should I be paying sales tax?

And on top of that there are also local taxes, some of which cannot be calculated by ZIP code. So there is additional cost for these online stores to deal with because the government doesn't feel its current taxation methods are sufficient.

What do assumptions do again? (2, Insightful)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643834)

Not having the actual study, it's hard to say, but it seems like there's some big assumptions here.

For instance:

It also highlights that working from home can increase home energy use by as much as 30 per cent, and can lead to people moving further from the workplace, stretching urban sprawl and increasing pollution.

Sure, it's going to increase home electric usage. One would hope, though, that the employer doesn't keep all the equipment running - which means the majority of that is just being shifted, not created anew. As far as increasing pollution from transportation, that I don't get at all. Suppose I work from home three days a week. To spend the same amount on driving, I'd need to move two and a half times as far away. And even then, I probably wouldn't, since it would mean more highway miles and less downtown miles. How many people are going to move from a twenty-mile commute to a fifty-mile commute just because they're working from home Tuesday - Thursday this year?

And if the employer set up the work-from-home program permanently, they can get a smaller building since they know 60% or more or staff is home every non-meeting day. So then there's likely very little extra electric usage.

Re:What do assumptions do again? (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643966)

>>>which means the majority of that is just being shifted, not created anew.

And even if the electricity did go up, the overall *energy* usage would be less than moving a ~4000 pound vehicle across ~50 miles (typical american commute). Moving electrons across wires is far more energy efficient than moving people back-and-forth to work. Staying home uses FAR less energy overall.

Re:What do assumptions do again? (1)

Chmcginn (201645) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644074)

And even if the electricity did go up, the overall *energy* usage would be less than moving a ~4000 pound vehicle across ~50 miles (typical american commute).

Exactly. Although, I think maybe that was part of their 'this was in Britain, so YMMV' statement at the end.

If the average upper-middle-class British commute is much shorter, it could drive up transportation costs. If they originally lived two miles from the workplace when it was five days a week, and then when it became a once-a-week deal, they got a house 25 miles away, it might create more pollution than you saved. But most Americans who work jobs that can be telecommuted to already live quite a few miles away, so assuming they're going to move much further without some good evidence that is the case is silly.

Re:What do assumptions do again? (1)

seebs (15766) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644114)

I don't buy this "urban sprawl" thing. Yes, I work far from my office. About 25 miles, I think. I dunno; I go there maybe once a month.

Instead, I live in a small town, about six blocks from the grocery store, which I walk to nearly every day. I need to pick up prescriptions? I walk to the drug store. Wanna browse the used bookstore? I walk there. Going out for lunch? I walk.

Trips up to the Big City to go shopping are isolated, and we go two or three places on a single trip.

When I lived in a city, nicely centrally located and all that, we drove about 15k miles a year, now we drive maybe 3k if that. Now, the cost of getting goods here may be slightly higher -- but that's all highly efficient rail or big semis, which are costing a lot less than hundreds of individual grocery trips.

Re:What do assumptions do again? (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644376)

Assumptions cover your ass. Especially if you state them in the introduction to your paper.

Postal Service (2, Insightful)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643846)

The biggest 'environmental' problem IMO the "failed delivery attempt" to many residential locations ... much wated gas. They should just setup a few centralized pickup locations in urbanized areas (provided, of course, the real estate is available and 'cheap' enough to keep rates low).

What I don't understand is why the post office (at least Canada Post) and the major shippers UPS, FedEX must make a delivery to your house should you order something. I can see they want to make sure you exist and that you have an address. Most people work and its not always practical to have goods delivered to work.

I've had a few things shipped with UPS and FedEX - low dollar value e.g. under $200. When I wasn't available to pickup it was a huge headache to get them to drop off at an alternate location. I live in a major city and their pickup/warehouse place is next to the airport - a good 40 minute commute.

Re:Postal Service (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643936)

What I don't understand is why the post office (at least Canada Post) and the major shippers UPS, FedEX must make a delivery to your house should you order something

As far as I know, they aren't. I hardly ever have anything delivered to my door unless it was shipped via Purolator (Their truck drives right past my house every weekday at 4pm). Anything sent via UPS I can pick up at the courier office (which is about 30 minutes away, or I can wait til they send a truck out my way on Thursdays), whereas Fedex punts to Canada Post for delivery, and it ends up in my mailbox.

OTOH, I'm in Saskatchewan and live in a tiny village, so YMMV.

Re:Postal Service (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644166)

Hey, this is Canada, buddy.

YKMV.

Re:Postal Service (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644044)

Here in Portugal we have plenty of post offices, at least in the cities, and if the package is large enough for the mailman to know it won't fit in the box (depends on the mailman - some won't deliver any package, even small), they'll just write a notice card and let you pickup the package at the post office.

Compromise (2, Funny)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643866)

So what if I go to the store and have them order stuff online for me from there? Does it all cancel out and create zero pollution?

Re:Compromise (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644176)

Better than that, the pollution from the factories actually goes back in!

So if anyone orders something online that ends up smelling like smoke, it's T Murphy's fault.

The world "may" end tomorrow. (3, Insightful)

kurokame (1764228) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643878)

The problem here is that many potential scenarios are being reduced to a blanket statement in the media.

Two examples.

Say I live a block from a major chain grocer. They have trucks coming and going to deliver their produce and other stock, which pollute at some rate. Now say I can either walk a block and buy a bag of carrots, or I can order one from their delivery service. If I walk, I'm polluting at whatever rate corresponds to a human walking - pretty low, probably around what it would be if I was just sitting at home doing nothing, and slightly beneficial to my health. If I order it, a truck picks up a batch of groceries from the store and then drives to my home and several others. For this, it's probably true that the second case has a significant pollution margin compared to the first case. This does not make the second case a major pollutant source, just one which is likely greater than the first case.

Now say I want to order a mattress. I could rent a van, go driving around to several mattress shops, and drive my purchase home. Alternately, I could use public transit to visit several stores and then have one delivered in a truck along with several other deliveries. Maybe the truck is diesel and the van uses unleaded. Okay...it's probably true that the truck pollutes less than if everyone it's delivering to drives to the store themselves.

What the heck are they comparing here? All in-person purchases to all online purchases? All deliveries? Yes, I chose extremes - because they're a good way to illustrate that the article is making some unsupportable blanket statements. If the question is buying a shirt from Target versus getting it online...well, it's harder to say which is better. Using a car probably pollutes more than delivery or public transit - one engine tends to be less wasteful than dozens. But of the remaining two? Okay, the bus was going there with or without you, but the FedEx truck was driving its route with or without you as well. Maybe the difference isn't all that large.

The bigger problem here is that modern environmentalism is riddled with this sort of irresponsible reporting. Did it arise from the media article or from the researchers? Who knows. Both have been known to be guilty of this, although it's often the simple case of journalists being given topics to report on which they lack the competency to interpret accurately. But FUD and panic aren't going to save the planet.

Additional pollution = packaging (1)

mysidia (191772) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643894)

I guess they assume all those boxes and Styrofoam peanuts will wind up in the land fill instead of recycled or re-used.

Anyone up for eco-friendly packaging materials for shipments?

Re:Additional pollution = packaging (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644170)

"Styrofoam" peanuts are actually usually made from cornstarch and will disintegrate on contact with water in a landfill.

Re:Additional pollution = packaging (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644274)

You mean like Geämi [geami.com] (used by Digi-Key.ca), ExpandOS [expandos.com] and the Easypack Shredder [easypack.net]?

Packing "peanuts", even if made from starch, are not as eco-friendly as one would think. They take up a lot of room when shipping to your business (it's almost like you're getting a delivery of air) and they also take a lot of room to store.

Re:Additional pollution = packaging (1)

ScottCooperDotNet (929575) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644288)

Both my last shipments from Amazon and NewEgg were all cardboard and brown paper, save items they get in plastic bubbles from the manufacturer. So it is mostly recyclable. Now if apartment complexes had to recycle like the local homeowners do, that would help.

Size & Weight of "items" (1)

Beerdood (1451859) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643906)

This is a pretty meaningless study without factoring in the size or weight of the "items" being purchased. I'm pretty sure that purchasing a new fridge at the local mall leaves a much smaller environmental impact than ordering one from 1000 km away, whereas a small object like a book leaves less of an impact as the mail delivery doesn't require additional work by the postal service (as opposed to burning gas driving to the store to buy a book)

Re:Size & Weight of "items" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644098)

The fridge is probably made in China and assembled in Mexico (for US distribution), and then maybe sent to a distribution center.

Even if you bought it at the mall, most people need a delivery service to get it to their house anyway, so they might as well just ship it straight from the distribution center to your house and skip the mall. The mall is pretty much just a showroom.

A fridge probably isn't a great example. Suppose a microwave or something. The nice thing about going to a store is that I can walk out with a microwave; I don't have to pay for priority shipping and *still* have to wait days to get it.

That last sentence... (4, Insightful)

unitron (5733) | more than 3 years ago | (#33643914)

The last sentence says "But one technology site notes the study was conducted in Britain, which could have an impact on its conclusions.", which makes it sound as though conducting studies in Britain, rather than elsewhere, is much more likely to skew results somehow, but the actual article on said technology site merely points out that the results obtained are the results you get with the conditions one finds in Britain, and that conducting the study in other countries with differing transportation systems, population densities, topographical and climatological features, et cetera, might produce differing results.

As for shopping locally or online, I go where I can find what I want (or, more likely, what I'm willing to settle for) at a price I can stomach and obtain this most quickly and conveniently. Sometimes that's local, sometimes not. Usually it's neither and I have to make do without.

Re:That last sentence... (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644048)

> The last sentence says "But one technology site notes the study was conducted
> in Britain, which could have an impact on its conclusions.", which makes it
> sound as though conducting studies in Britain, rather than elsewhere, is much
> more likely to skew results somehow

Yes. It's the Tories!

Re:That last sentence... (1)

Eskarel (565631) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644228)

Britain has very different population and transport patterns than the US.

As a specific example, the delineation between the city and the country is rather more extreme than is the case in most US cities, and due to property prices, commuting distances of two or more hours each way are not by any means unusual or unheard of. Combined with a substantially better public transport network than is present in the US, and you can see how things would be very different.

If you're driving or taking the train into the city every day, and you pick up something while you're there, then it's likely to be substantially more efficient than ordering the item online, as the detour you made from your regular schedule is a) more than likely to be on foot, and b) a tiny percentage of the distance the shipment would have to travel to get to your home.

In the US, and in a number of other countries, while a lot of people still work in inner city areas, most people shop in outer suburban areas and tend to make special trips for the specific purpose of picking up said items. If I drive 15 minutes each way to buy something, it's quite possible that an efficient shipping company could probably generate less pollution than I would doing that single item purchase.

Sad/funny quote from the study (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33643952)

TFA excerpted this quote from TFstudy:

Our report highlights two important messages for policy makers. Firstly, climate change is a real threat to our planet, so we must not get overwhelmed by the task and use rebound effects as an excuse not to act.

Secondly, policy makers must do their homework to ensure that rebound effects do not negate the positive benefits of their policy initiatives and simply move carbon emissions from one sector to another.”

Firstly, there has never been a problem of policy makers as a group using anything as an excuse not to act. Plenty of trouble with taking the wrong action, or winding up with net inaction due to political gridlock, but not declining to act -- not even temporarily until they can determine the right course of action.

Secondly, it's a shame they legislate so impetuously that you feel the need to remind them of that -- and an even bigger shame that, even with your reminder, they'll never do their homework -- but they'll be happy to pick up the rest of your study and abuse it freely to support their predetermined course of action.

Yeah, and trees cause smog, too (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644052)

The nearest 'local' mall for me is 21 miles away (and we're talking strip mall, not big mall). The nearest place with some of the stores I routinely favor is 32, and there are products I have bought in the last 6 months that were not physically available within 220 miles in any brick and mortar store. I have bought over 20 items this year that were shipped from over 3,000 miles away, including a book that left its press in the hands of a Laotian native who bicycled with it to a town in Viet-Nam, where it went in the back of a physician's car for two days, ending up in Hong Kong when his cousin took over and finished that leg of the route, where it was packed into a 'containerized' shipping system, otherwise mostly full of dry cat food (, bulk, uncoated, green), and crossed the pacific to San Francisco to become a UPS delivery to me a few days later. (All this was recounted when I tracked the package via Amazon's links. Thanks Dr. Trin and family). If anyone can actually calculate the ecological consequences of that, besides my book smelling vaguely like those little chlorophilised nuggets they put in dry cat food to give kitties fresher breath, I'd really like to see the math.

      In fact, this sort of case sounds like just where the study may have gone wrong. Did they compare the cost to ship from a remote warehouse to the end consumer with the cost to drive to a local store, when, to compare apples to apples, the second half of the equation should have included the cost to ship in bulk from some central warehouse to the local store plus the cost to drive locally? Did they include the cost to sometimes drive to a store that was out of the product, or did they assume consumers always do the sensible thing and call first, and screw-ups with inventory and such don't routinely occur. (It's dirty statistics to assume from the start one group always acts rationally or in an idealised manner, when your overall conclusion is the other group is probably making a mistake). That's not really clarified in the article, and the whole article also sounds like the people writing it thought there were very few cases where it would make more sense to order online, yet, their parameters seem to fit about 80 million Americans for the majority of their purchases, and most of them for a decent fraction. I know Great Britain is smaller, but it's not that tiny such that 'everything' is somehow within 50 Km., plus they use smaller trucks for more of their shipping to small towns, which should add a bit to the percentages, so I doubt it applies there as well as they claim.

Re:Yeah, and trees cause smog, too (1)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644358)

Interesting story, but you need a correction: the chemicals in cat litter are not to give your cat better breath, it is to give your dog better breath.

BullShit!!! (1)

b4upoo (166390) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644076)

In my town over 100 businesses have closed their doors and endless others have not even tried to start up due to competition from online sources. Just how much energy and pollution does that stop. Think of all that construction and all those employees and customers driving to those stores every day. And think of the sprawl issue and the road building that has to take place for brick and mortar stores.
                      In other words simple direct comparisons are faulty as hell. Yes, UPS does burn a bit of diesel delivering a product purchased online. But then again one or two suppliers might supply an entire nation or cluster of nations with a specific product eliminating the existence of tens of thousands of buildings.

Re: BullShit!!! (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644338)

"In my town over 100 businesses have closed their doors and endless others have not even tried to start up due to competition from online sources."

Citation very, very much needed. :)

Forgotton factor (2, Interesting)

dln385 (1451209) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644086)

Every weekday at exactly 11:00 AM, the UPS truck drives past my house. Whenever I purchase goods online, the UPS truck drops it off at 11:00 AM. What's the carbon footprint of my order? I would have to guess virtually zero.

Cant get stuff locally (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644186)

If I could buy things locally, I wouldn't need to get them online!

Unless small shops start carrying every possible product, online shopping is going to win.

Re:Cant get stuff locally (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644436)

You should have logged in to post that.
I can rarely find what I need in stores. That and stores won't let me shop at 11pm when I have some free time, which amazon seems fine with.

Lucky for me.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644330)

...all of my online purchases involve goods shipped in from overseas from countries OTHER than the U.K.. Plus, I tend to buy in bulk when I can manage it.

Hypothetical (4, Funny)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644342)

What if I'm buying CO2 credits online?

Re:Hypothetical (1)

blair1q (305137) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644398)

The mass of the delivery truck divided by the mass of a single CO2 credit is on the order of infinity plus a metric assload.

Which is highly inefficient in environmental terms.

You're far better off growing a rainforest in the back of your Hummer, sequestering CO2 and delivering O2 to the environment while you drive.

fdafafafad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33644374)

NEWS FLASH no one gives a fuck! I shop online because it's convenient and sometimes cheaper; that is all.

Where's the paper? (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#33644476)

I'd like to see the actual paper, which doesn't seem to be linked. Do they mean 25 purchases to one location, or 25 purchases per delivery run?

Buses, by the way, have a similar problem. Buses have good energy efficiency when full and when going roughly from source to destination. They have terrible efficiency when they're running winding routes designed to cover as much area as possible, carrying few people. Which is the typical suburban bus situation.

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