Image via GigaOm
In a new report by MindClick SGM and GigaOm, Black Friday is found to be shockingly more carbon intensive than Cyber Monday - 50 times more intensive. When TreeHugger readers began the debate this year about which was greener, the Black Friday footrace or the Cyber Monday click-a-thon, no one really thought the numbers would show this kind of impact. Back in April, we did our own analysis of online shopping versus driving to the mall. There are a lot of variables to consider, and we found that in most, but not all instances, online shopping has a lighter footprint. MindClick SGM and GigaOm did some serious number crunching, and while their variables aren't perfect, their findings will certainly make us think twice about in-person shopping. It's not necessarily the impact of online shopping that is 50 times greater than in person shopping. But rather, the over all impact of these two days create the drastic numbers. In general, retail purchases were found to be 15 times greater than online purchases - still an eye-popping difference. But it's when the findings are scaled to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzies that the differences really stood out.
The study states: "We modeled the environmental impact of purchasing consumer goods either online or through a trip to a retail outlet for an in-store purchase using an Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA) model approach. The environmental impact, as indicated by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, was then weighed by the relative dollar amounts spent during the traditional 'Black Friday' and 'Cyber Monday' purchasing windows. In summary, we find that the impact of an in-store purchase represents an increase of more than 15 times that of an online purchase; the overall impact of Black Friday is more than 50 times that of Cyber Monday."
The variables used include the emissions that are associated with store infrastructure, the transportation to the store, and product shipping scenarios. The study also assumed that the trip to the store was for the specific product purchase, and no impulse purchases or food purchases were made - which is highly unrealistic for Black Friday shopping; that there was no difference in packaging of the actual product between the two scenarios and that a plastic bag was used in store to package the product and a cardboard boxed used to ship the online purchase; and the impact of e-commerce, as well as the impact of using the internet were excluded - also important factors to leave out considering the carbon footprint of data centers. It should be noted, too, that the transportation assumption is a 20-mile round trip with two passengers. So using a working study, it was assumed that the transportation to the store was 40 passenger miles, emitting 14 kg of CO2E. That seems like a lot of passenger miles for a trip to the mall.
Using these variables, the study concludes that, "For the entire Thanksgiving Day weekend, the GHG emissions for "Black Friday" (in-store purchases) are more than 50 times the GHG emissions of "Cyber Monday" (online purchases), though the exact duration of both days is expanding to the entire Thanksgiving Day weekend. Emissions associated with the store infrastructure constitute a substantial portion of the GHG emissions and even outweigh the emissions of getting to the store. Even if the buyer
walked to the retail location, an in-store purchase would emit more GHG than
ordering online using this simplified model."
The numbers are certainly interesting, but not incredibly reliable considering how very simplified the study is - almost a requirement when acknowledging how difficult it is to try and compare these two shopping events. While it's great to have an extra study to reference for online vs retail shopping, we're going back to our original conclusion that in most, but not all cases, online shopping is simply greener for much of the country, but that there are loads of variables that make a big difference in the carbon impact. So if you're going to do more shopping for the holidays, be sure to do your own gut-check analysis of how you're shopping and what you're shopping for, because it could make a really big difference.
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