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Buying online is the most environmentally friendly way to shop, say top researchers

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Using data provided by and building on previous Green Design Institute studies, Carnegie Mellon researchers have compared the energy use and carbon dioxide emissions associated with delivering a flash drive from a manufacturer to a home via the traditional retail channel and via’s ecommerce channel.

In one scenario tested, the researchers found that buying from reduced environmental impact with 35% less energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than that produced in the traditional retail shopping model.

Key findings include:

  • The traditional retail distribution model, combined with factors such as product packaging and customers driving to and from stores, resulted in greater energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than in the online shopping model.

  • The largest contributors to energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions were from customer transport for traditional retail, and packaging and ‘last mile’ delivery to customer homes for ecommerce.

  • Approximately 65% percent of total emissions generated by the traditional retail model stemmed from customer transport to and from retail stores.

“In a study of this nature with numerous variables, we took great care to estimate average case performance using simulations and approximations,” said H Scott Matthews, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon and research director of the Green Design Institute. “We were able to show that in the majority of cases studied, the ecommerce model does perform better than shopping at traditional retail in the areas of carbon dioxide emissions and energy consumption.”

Readers can download a free pdf of the study, Life Cycle Comparison of Traditional Retail and E-Commerce Logistics for Electronic Products: A Case Study of, from the website.

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