Ordering online is more popular than ever. Sure, because after all, the new jeans, the next practical kitchen helper or the useful sports gadget for home workouts are just a click away. And a panicked last-minute purchase so that you don't come away empty-handed at your aunt's birthday probably sounds familiar to most people. We are often aware that these purchases are not necessarily the most environmentally friendly, but the flexibility of online shopping is admittedly also simply unique. After all, we save time with it: The way to the city, sifting through store shelves and the question "What exactly do I actually want?" is no longer necessary thanks to predefined filters and search settings.
How bad for the environment is online shopping really?
The answer to this is not easy to give in general terms. It should be remembered that shops cannot do without energy to present individual, mostly very high-quality products and to illuminate them in an appealing way for customers. Of course, driving into the city is not sustainable either. In addition, hardly anyone will say that the active presentation of televisions and other electronic devices in the shop is ecologically good.
Of course, shops also need large amounts of energy for heating and electricity. In addition, large devices take up a lot of space when delivered to a retailer and, for example, a few kilometers have already been covered to fill a warehouse with electronic devices. The CO2 balance can vary greatly depending on the product. Nevertheless, one thing is clear: when shopping online, there is a lot of packaging waste that would not be there when shopping in a store. The packaging is often only used once before it ends up in the garbage. You can see which packaging goes in which garbage bag our overview of waste separation read.
Even hours of searching in shops and portals can quickly increase the energy balance of the customer and shop, depending on the device. Last but not least, you should of course ask yourself which product you are currently putting in your shopping cart and where it comes from and where it was produced. Manufacturing conditions cannot simply be inquired about face to face when shopping online, but must first be searched for on websites and possibly found out by telephone. In general, both online and offline: From an ecological point of view, the best purchase is the one that doesn't even take place.
In this article we have summarized how you can keep your (unavoidable) online orders sustainable, reduce packaging waste and what you should also pay attention to when buying.
1. Buy ecological groceries online
To the supermarket for the weekly shop? Nowadays no one has to if they don't want to. Vegetables, rice and milk, like everything else, are just a click away. While bulk orders of imported groceries should be avoided, some products can be really worth ordering.
Regional specialties in particular sometimes protect the environment more than buying them in the market. If I order a locally manufactured product from Bavaria, for example, on the other side of Germany, the purchase can definitely be more sustainable than if I buy a similar product in the supermarket that has already been transported across the world. It is also worth looking for regional delivery services that primarily deliver fresh fruit and vegetables from the area and try to save resources. So you not only get fresh goods, but also protect the environment through regional delivery. Tips on how to avoid plastic and unnecessary packaging when shopping, you can find here .
2. Search online in an environmentally friendly way and shop at sustainable online shops
Even if the search via Google is convenient and quick, it is unfortunately not necessarily the most sustainable way for the shopping experience. “Green” search engines like Ecosia, on the other hand, promote charitable projects with every use. The money does not have to be donated separately, but the expenses are covered by advertisements.
As with groceries, time can be well invested in finding sustainable online shops for other products. These shops not only rely on environmentally friendly packaging and save plastic, but also campaign for sustainable shipping. In addition, they sell fair products in particular, which have been manufactured as environmentally friendly as possible, under appropriate conditions and for fair wages. You can definitely buy kitchen helpers, sports equipment and (useful) gifts there with a clearer conscience - and the selection is huge in other respects too.
Some delivery services already deliver your parcels in a CO2-neutral manner, but what about the online shop? Feel free to ask about cooperation here (and also about anything else you would like to know about sustainable delivery conditions), DHL, for example, supports environmentally friendly delivery with "GoGreen" by supporting climate protection projects as compensation. Also only order by express in extreme emergencies! In this way you avoid unused space in vans and thus unnecessary journeys.
3. Question the purchase and avoid returns
Quite clearly: one click requires far less effort than carrying mountains of clothes while strolling through the whole store until you finally reach the changing room. Unfortunately, 20 parts that you send back anyway are of no use to you - on the contrary. Because you end up spending money on things you never use or wear, or if you decide to keep them, they just take up space in your home. The number 1 environmental sinner here is clearly returns, i.e. the deliveries that you send back after you have placed your order. Because the return costs resources, delivery trips and the packaging of the package was practically for nothing.
So it is better not only to question the purchase of each part, but also to consciously use all possibilities to avoid returns. In addition to size charts, measurements and virtual models, this can also include reviews of purchases that have already been made. Some parts simply require a fitting in the shop, which should then also be supported. And not by visiting the store and then making an online purchase. In addition, many returns from some retailers are destroyed after the return for cost reasons, instead of being checked and made available to new customers.
Donations are usually not worthwhile for tax reasons either. So before you place your next order, check your shopping cart again and ask yourself “Does that have to be?” for each piece before ordering. If the return is really unavoidable, then at least use the original packaging to reduce unnecessary waste here as well.
4. Save plastic and packaging waste with bulk orders
Packaging waste in the form of styrofoam, plastic cords and packaging is anything but sustainable. Also delivery in multiple packages. Online shopping should definitely not become the norm! Fortunately, 2021 is coming with the ban on several single-use plastic items. If you want to learn more about it, just click here .
A look at the delivery conditions can also protect the environment: does the delivery come in several parts or is everything delivered together? Are there ways to save on further shipments? (Again: Is it really needed?) Just ask your friends or neighbors if they would like to order one too. Win-Win: protect the environment and save on shipping costs!
Sustainable online shops also usually offer alternatives for delivery and use second-hand materials and packages and fillings made of sustainable materials such as plant starch for packaging. In addition, deposit systems are being established for ecological delivery boxes, similar to to-go orders in restaurants , little by little.
5. Deliveries to parcel shops or packing stations
The delivery of parcels to every front door also has a significant impact on the CO2 balance and is therefore not sustainable in two senses: In many companies, the wages and working conditions for parcel deliverers and other employees are not necessarily what you would think of as “ fair” presented. Resources and delivery trips can be saved here by delivering to parcel stations, where you can then pick up your parcels on foot. In addition, you save the driver unnecessarily double routes if the delivery was not successful due to time constraints.
If in doubt, a phone call to the company can save a lot of time, resources and energy. Alternatively, a delivery to the associated store of the shop can also be sustainable. Because that also saves delivery routes and CO2 if you pick up the package on foot or by bike. Incidentally, even if a return is unavoidable, handing it over to the store can easily save resources.
6. Second-hand - buy clothes and other things sustainably
Reduce, reuse, recycle: Second hand has been enjoying increasing popularity online and offline for a number of years, especially when it comes to clothes. Whether “taking over” a blouse from your best friend, borrowing a sweater from your older brother or buying an entire outfit from complete strangers – we all want to save money when it comes to clothing. And for the next wedding invitation, the purchase of an evening dress, which then spends some time in the closet, can also be really worthwhile. Some second-hand shops can also be found online, and not only clothes characterize the offer. In addition to clothing exchange platforms for circular fashion and websites offering second-hand fashion, other portals for furniture and the like are also becoming increasingly popular.
Even used smartphones and good old books can be given a second life online. Of course, when making larger purchases, you should pay attention to the condition of the product and find out about return conditions in order to protect yourself from annoying bad purchases. So second-hand shopping costs some time, but saves resources that are not needed for the production of a new product.
If it is supposed to be a completely new piece of clothing, then avoid fast fashion! Find out here about the conditions and the place of manufacture and invest in sustainably produced parts that you will enjoy for a long time and that you can combine in many ways. In short: basic love never goes out of style!
You can shop online, but please not regularly
You don't necessarily save the environment by ordering in online shops, but you don't have to have a bad conscience when buying online either. Rather, as when shopping in the city, one should specifically ask oneself whether a new piece is necessary and also take a look at the ecological and social delivery conditions of the company. It doesn't matter whether it's new clothes, a chic yoga mat or a main thing-I-have-something gift: do I need it and can I really ethically justify the purchase? Or would a visit to the nearest flea market or a pair of new sneakers from the specialist shop around the corner do the trick?
As already indicated, the most sustainable purchase is one that does not exist. Of course, you don't have to do without online shopping entirely. Questioning your purchase a second or third time from time to time can make a difference. And seriously: Homemade gifts, personal vouchers or invitations are far better than panicked last-minute purchases.