How green is ecommerce?

No primary category set

The Chief Executive of Toys R Us Jerry Storch has slammed ecommerce as “very ungreen” and calls on consumers to consider the environmental impact of having items delivered direct to your door. He claims that online shoppers are “just so enraptured with how cool it is that they can order anything and get it brought to their home that they aren’t thinking about the carbon footprint of that. But that will change.”

He added: ‘driving a truck down a country lane in rural Connecticut to deliver a package is hardly the greenest way of product delivery to occur. People are going to start realizing, wait, I’m already … taking my children to school. The store is right there. I can just pick it up.” For the record, Toys R Us sold $1bn worth of goods online last year, 7% of its total sales.

He may have a point. Working at home I see the comings and goings of the Royal Mail and various couriers to my little street. Not only do Royal Mail send the postie daily but on most days a van with parcels offers an additional service.

Various couriers visit through the day to drop items to residents too: it’s not unusual to see 3 or 4 vans come by daily and it is sometimes more. They’re bringing consignments from Amazon, Asos and other ecommerce outlets. These multiple drop offs by different firms is a result of the deregulated postal industry but it can hardly be considered green.

Storch is right to note that delivery systems that don’t require the ‘last mile’ service such as Click & Collect and dropboxes like Amazon’s lockers in supermarkets may have less impact. But it is by no means clear the extent to which these are likely to be adopted.

Also, consider the individual packaging that ecommerce items require. That has an environmental impact. When merchandise arrives in a store it comes generically packed as multiples. Items sent in the post require individual packaging and I imagine that creates a gargantuan amount of waste.

But where Storch’s criticisms fall short is with a cursory look at retail outlets and ignoring the impact that shops themselves have. Often lit all through the night for security reasons and by days the doors are wide open leaking heat out into the streets and car parks. That seems like a problem that needs to be sorted too.

And considering big out of town shopping outlets and supermarkets. they are often little more than uninsulated metal sheds, that might be something worth solving too before sounding off about ecommerce.

26 Responses

  1. I would imagine that the courier already doing the rounds down my road is one heck of a lot greener than me sparking up the 3 litre Jaguar and doing the 10 mile round trip to Argos (or the 30 mile round trip to my nearest Toy R Us!)

    Sure I could buy a more economical car, but then I could also let the courier deliver multiple packages in one go or as happened on Saturday my Postie delivered 6 parcels at the same time (and he’s very green, he was on foot)

  2. so millions of tons of plastic and packaging toysRus consume is green? or even useful? in the big scheme of things, and many of those online transcations will be their toys being recycled by trade

  3. I am of an age that I can remember back before ecommerce. The various Post Office Vans and Couriers Vans(OK maybe not as many of them) used to call around especially at this time of year. It might not have been goods from Amazon they were delivering. It was probably from Granny or maybe Cousin Jack in the States.

    Today those parcels from Granny etc are still being delivered but with a lot of other stuff.

    In regard to the other stuff. Years ago we went into the Shop and chose from what they had on the shelf. Now we want to search for the unusual(and then end up buying much the same as everybody else).

    In my own field…Books. There are about 600,000 Books listed in BBIP(British Books in Print). No Normal Bookshop could hope to stock even 1 copy of each of those. So if you want a Book for Uncle John and he is into Egyptian Pyramids you cannot guarantee to be able to find it in the local Bookshop(if there still is a Local Bookshop) so you go on line.

    It might not be totally green but I am also of an age when I can remember when the Trading Estates the large out of town Superstores including Toy R Us were still fields with happy Sheep and Cows grazing on them.

  4. Quote: Not only do Royal Mail send the postie daily but on most days a van with parcels offers an additional service.

    Just to keep you up to date Royal Mail is “modernising” the way it does deliveries about 500 of 1200 Delivery Offices have already been modernised. Instead of 1 postie delivering for 3.5 hours by foot RM are introducing across the country a system whereby 2 posties operating out of a van deliver all mail including large packets for the area they deliver to. Also the size of deliveries has increased so that both posties now deliver for 4.5 – 6 hours. On the face of it it looks good because you don’t have the van you mentioned in your blog as that will be surplus to requirement – in most Post Codes this will mean 2 or 3 roving Vans being lost. Unfortunately instead of there being less than 10,000 RM vans delivering and collecting as now, there will soon be 38,000+ – not really a “green” initiative.

  5. The courier can have 1 van deliver to 50 addresses in my area, or all 50 of us residents can drive 50 cars to the shops and back.

    I take it that Toys r Us will stop trading online then as it is such a concern to them.

  6. It’s easy to see how green ecommerce is; look at how little you pay for parcel delivery. The bulk of the couriers/Royal mail’s costs are vehicles/diesel/staff. I can’t drive very far at all the standard 45p/mile before it’s cheaper to have it delivered therefore I assume delivery is greener.

  7. Another aspect is retail centred packaging. If there were no retail shops and everything was 100% e-commerce, then there’s be none of this wasteful, glossy, shiny and environmentally deadly packaging that we see most products sold in. The only reason I still sell stuff like that is because our suppliers do most of their trade with retail shops and dull and unappealing packaging doesn’t catch the eye on shop shelves. In ecommerce, these things matter much less.

    So in this aspect, it is much ‘greener’.

  8. We operate far greener than Toys R us! During quite times they have their great big stores all lit up with lighting with no one in the shop where we have sensors on our factory lights so when no one is in that part the lights go off!, they heat their great big high roof stores where we have no heating just wear an extra jumper!, hundreds of cars a day drive to each store per day where in that area we will have a couple of vans on the road so using a lot less fuel and traffic! Our delivery company is now 100% carbon neutral!! We pack ALL our parcels in 100% recycled packaging which is all bio-degradable! We recycle ALL our waste! I think Jerry Storch could learn a lot from visiting our factory and how our Ecommerce Company operates to HELP the environment not pollute it!


2023 Ecommerce World Review - March 28/29

Save the date: 2023 Ecommerce World Review


How consumers and retailers are adjusting 


Ecommerce businesses now benefit from Governments Help to Grow scheme


Consumers do not trust brands to stick to environmental claims


Royal Mail carbon target – net zero by 2040

ChannelX Guide...

Featured in this article from the ChannelX Guide – companies that can help you grow and manage your business.


Take a look through a selection of the latest articles on ChannelX

Register for Newsletter

Receive 5 newsletters per week

Gain access to all research

Be notified of upcoming events and webinars