A new study from mall operator Simon indicates that shopping online is not so environmentally friendly.
The study, conducted with Deloitte, shows that mall shopping can be up to 60% more environmentally sustainable than online shopping. According to Simon and Deloitte, factors including increased returns and additional packaging contribute to e-commerce's negative environmental impact. In contrast, the lower emissions associated with brick-and-mortar locations were driven by shoppers making a greater number of purchases per trip and combining their mall visits with other activities as part of their trip chain.
An initial study conducted by Deloitte in 2016 assessed the greenhouse gas emissions associated with all material, energy and waste attributable to a product in its lifecycle. Simon updated the analysis with new data to incorporate recent trends in shopper behaviors for both online and mall shopping. To ensure comparability, the life cycle assessment assumed that the consumer purchased the same basket of goods online as they would in a brick-and-mortar location.
The updated study demonstrates that shopping at a mall is approximately three times more environmentally sustainable than just three years ago due to changing consumer behaviors, both online and in-store. Key findings from the study include:
• Shopping online leads to five times more returned products, which considerably increases the environmental impact. The study shows that approximately 40% of online purchases are returned, compared to a 7% return rate in the case of brick-and-mortar.
• Shopping online creates five times more emissions from packaging for online orders (such as corrugated boxes, bubble wrap, etc.) compared with the emissions associated with use of plastic/paper bags consumers typically bring home from a mall.
• Mall shoppers buy, on average, three and a half products per trip and visit other places on their way to the mall, lowers the emissions specifically related to their mall visit because their trip is divided between multiple stops.
"Simon continues to focus on improving the sustainability of its own properties. Through careful energy efficiency and renewable energy investments, we have reduced the greenhouse gas emissions at our properties by over 21% in five years. However, sustainable shopping can only be achieved in collaboration with retailers and shoppers. Especially during holiday shopping, we encourage consumers to consider the environmental impact of their shopping behaviors," said Mona Benisi, VP of sustainability, Simon.