Episode 180: Does shopping online save energy?

Online Shopping

Nathaniel Horner, a researcher for Carnegie Mellon University’s Engineering and Public Policy Department, discusses if shopping online helps save energy.

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Known unknowns: indirect energy effects of information and communication technology by Nathaniel C. Horner, Arman Shehabi and Inês L. Azevedo

Is Online Shopping Really the Green Alternative? by Jennifer Konuik

What’s more energy efficient, shopping online or in stores? by Time De Chant

Transcript

HOST: Have you ever wondered if ordering something online instead of going to the store to buy it saves energy? On this week’s Energy Bite, Nathaniel Horner, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, has some answers.

NATHANIEL: It depends. If you usually drive to the store, ordering online might save energy, since a truck making deliveries to you and your neighbors on the same route consumes less fuel than if everyone drives individually to the store. But if you usually walk to go shopping, then having the truck drive to your house could use more energy. And you have to look at the entire system: how the product is manufactured, packaged, and shipped in each case.

HOST: It sounds complicated!

NATHANIEL: We haven’t even mentioned “ripple effects” yet! If the ease of buying online makes you buy more stuff, or you use the time it saves you to drive to a vacation spot, you might use more energy. But if you spend the time taking a nap, you could save energy on balance. Now think about the broad impacts of people and companies making these kinds of choices individually, and you get a sense of how hard it is to determine if e-commerce saves energy overall!

HOST: Does energy use inform your shopping habits? Take our poll, see the results, and ask your energy questions at Energy Bite dot org.

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