February 6, 2016

Shop right: Online shopping might not be as green as people think it is

A study by researchers in the Delaware Center for Transportation provides insight into
the impacts of home shopping on vehicle operations and greenhouse gas emissions.

(February 6, 2015)  Home shopping isn’t new — images from Sears catalogues in the early 1900s show bicycles, banjos, hats, dresses, shoes, long underwear for men, corsets for women, guns, tools, light fixtures, storage trunks, curling irons, metal toys, and even cars and entire house kits.

Shopping malls took a chunk out of home shopping in the mid-20th century, but the Internet brought it back in startling numbers, with close to half of the American population having made online purchases by 2008.

With a few clicks of the mouse or swipes of the screen, people can now order everything from concert tickets, books and craft supplies to home decor, car parts, disposable diapers and groceries.

Logic suggests that online shopping is “greener” than traditional shopping. After all, when people shop from home, they are not jumping into their cars, one by one, to travel to the mall or the big box store.

But a multi-year regional study at the University of Delaware suggests that home shopping has a greater impact on the transportation sector than the public might suspect. The results of the research are documented in a paper, “Impacts of Home Shopping on Vehicle Operations and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” in the International Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology.

Delaware Center for Transportation researchers
Arde Faghri (left) and Mingxin Li.

The study, which focused on the city of Newark, Delaware, was led by Arde Faghri, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and director of the Delaware Center for Transportation (DCT).

The project included data collection through a survey to identify shopping behavior and summary of the survey results by product category, followed by simulation and analysis.

“Our simulation results showed that home shopping puts an additional burden on the local transportation network, as identified through four measures of effectiveness — travel time, delay, average speed, and greenhouse gas emissions,” says co-author Mingxin Li, a researcher at DCT.

journal reference >>