What’s Greener? Shop Local or Shop Online?

Skiers on Leith Links

It seems that some Leithers have decided that skiis are currently the best way to get across Leith Links to the shops. But whilst this years “unprecendented cold snap” has surprised Edinburgh by coming early – Christmas has not yet been cancelled by the snow.

And the first challenge for anyone who wants to at least try to minimise the environmental impact of supplying an entire extended family with food, gifts and entertainment over the festive period is how to get all that extra (ethically purchased) stuff to your house.

So, what’s the best way to do it? Shop local or Shop online? It’s a tricky one, and the answer doesn’t seem to be clear cut. In a nutshell – even a fairly sceptical study suggests it’s better to shop online but not:

  • if you can buy the thing you need locally
  • if you’re buying less than 25 things from the same place
  • if you don’t cut down on the number of journeys you make by car or by bus as a consequence.

What does this mean? Well for city dwellers it depends a lot on your existing shopping habits. If you live the kind of lifestyle where you pick up a few things from the local shop on the way home each evening for dinner, then you’ll probably find that you’re better off not changing anything.

If on the other hand, you do drive to a supermarket on a regular basis and fill the whole car with food, you’d be better off (and probably less stressed) by making these kinds of purchases online and getting the shop to deliver it.

For one-off purchases like Christmas presents, the worst thing you can do from a carbon emissions point of view is drive about making several ‘reconaisance’ trips, without making a purchase. Try to do this research online, rather than in a shop. If you end up needing to make a round trip of more than 50KM to buy your present, you’re definately better off buying it online.

However, perhaps a more objective study by the Commission for Integrated Transport tends to indicate that even small items like books can provide a carbon saving if bought online – and you actually manage to be in when it’s delivered. All the yellow bars in the graph below are the ‘online shopping’ scenarios. You can see they come out lower than the ‘conventional shopping’ scenarios.(If you click on the graph you can see a larger version).

However, all this assumes that you must drive or take the bus to the shops. In Leith, we’re blessed with a fine range of local independent shops that can satisfy most pockets and tastes. So, if you can walk or cycle, (or ski, sled, or snowboard) you can cut the transport related carbon emissions of that ‘last mile’ from shop to home to zero in an instant.

If you’re buying something bulky or heavy, you could always borrow a bike trailer. You’d be surprised what you can carry in them!

new bikes-at-work trailer

  • http://craftygreenpoet.blogspot.com Crafty green Poet

    Excellent advice, I walk everywhere really and do most of my shopping on foot, with the occasional bus journey thrown in. Edinburgh overall is still pretty good for small local shops.