The environmental impact of online shopping on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Emmy David
December 11, 2019

The time for the holiday season, Black Friday and Cyber Monday is here, and it is that time of the year when consumers shop online like no other season. Every day E-commerce companies are busy fulfilling consumers orders and transporting them to their doorsteps across the country.

While this is good for the business and country’s economy in general, no one realizes the environmental implications caused by to and fro of trucks ferrying packages to consumers. Today, consumers are shopping more than ever throughout the year. In many cities today, Black Friday is the toughest days as the town is congested and doubles the rate of pollution as consumers wait for the delivery of their orders.

December is the climax month of consumer activity online. But there are ways both companies and consumers can help to save the environment.

Changes from traditional Methods to Online Revolution

Before the online revolution came, the majority of the last mile deliveries were to stores, and they used to cluster in areas that could have easily been served by large trucks. But for today, most of the packages are directly taken to residential addresses. The only difference we have today compared to the past is changes in pollution. A while back, the level of pollution was low, but since the beginning of the online revolution, things have changed.

Things are even getting worse as emissions now penetrate to neighbourhoods through daily deliveries that were never designed for freight traffic. The last-mile delivery has brought noise problems, infrastructure damage in addition to emissions, and congestion. The high number of delivery destinations combined with the unpredictability of consumer’s orders plus the increasing demand for faster delivery process results in trucks that are less than full making multiple trips.

What can bring sanity to the last-mile delivery process? Let’s see in what ways the delivery can be improved.

Electric trucks would be a decent start

Zero-emission and other electric vehicles are one promising route towards greener online shopping. Recently, Tesla’s all-electric semi-truck announcement was met with much fanfare. The electric semis are promising to bring a change of long haul shipping. However, semis are not going to fix the last-mile problem entirely. Why? Cargo being transported over the long haul creates short-haul traffic.

For instance, in Southern California, 85% of all truck traffic is due to within region trips plus local deliveries. Vehicles with zero emissions, including small to medium-sized trucks and vans have a range of more than a hundred miles. The study shows that more than 90% of the trips made by parcel delivery vehicles are within a hundred-mile range.

The barrier preventing electric fleets is the upfront cost of switching out a fleet of trucks is huge, and for a smooth running and its success will require incentives from state governments.

Companies won’t change unless consumers push them to

Consumers can play a role in ensuring some of the problems experienced in the last mile delivery are improved. Even without drone equipped electric vans, consumers can turn online shopping to become greener than driving to local stores if three things were considered.

  • If consumers avoided expedited shipping (even for the free ones)
  • If consumers planned earlier and consolidated orders to get everything they need in fewer shipments
  • If consumers bought less stuff

It is possible to achieve that from consumers end, but it requires a larger public campaign to make it a success.

E-commerce players like Walmart and Amazon can mount such a campaign. Having slower and more consolidated shipping is not only better for the environment, but it saves the companies money through a reduced number of trucks operating on the road and simplifying their logistics.


Greenpeace environmental group encourages consumers to think long term when they are purchasing goods. For instance, buying products made from recycled content helps to decrease resource inputs. The whole idea is to consider the good of the environment, and if both the consumer and the e-commerce companies come together the negative issues seen in the current last-mile delivery will be a thing of the past.

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