Online shopping is a reality of our lives and in many cases, it can even lower the carbon footprint of a shopping experience, especially when we buy from local stores and ask for minimal packaging.If 1000 people in a region travel to the stores individually and return home with their holiday packages, they spend a large amount of fuel (and time and money) on their cars. The numbers don’t drop significantly even with public transport. If all these packages are ordered online, however, the stores or warehouses can find the most cost-effective and fuel-efficient way to deliver the material. A single truck can make the trips to homes that are barely a few kilometers apart and complete the entire expedition, without the excruiating pain of clogging the roads with hundreds of hatchbacks honking impatiently.
However, there is a fly in this ointment. When you no longer have to travel to the shop (and deal with the traffic and pushy sales people), it can get tempting to widen your net. Apples from Himachal during summer in Chennai? Oh yes. Organic vegetables from a remote farm in the Nilgiris? I am making the responsible choice, aren’t I? It’s organic, after all.
The procedure is deceptively similar. You browse, click and enter your card details, whether the store is in your region, or exists in a totally different time zone. And when a single portal has vendors from different parts of the world, the difference can blur even more quickly. The cherry on this unsustainable pie is the lure of free express shipping. If I can get my hands on a pack of Hello Kitty hair clips from Malaysia in two days, it doesn’t make sense to wait a week.
But here is (yet another) reason to choose patience over instant gratification. When something has to be delivered quickly, it is often despatched through trucks and cartons that are not optimally used. The same quantity of goods is then carried in two (or more) vehicles, increasing fuel consumption and packaging material.
On the other hand, with the ‘normal shipping’ option, there is often time to minimise fuel expenditure, and harness the real power of online shopping. The various goods that need to reach the same destination can be despatched in a single box, and perhaps even eliminate the reams of bubble wrap that keep a tiny object safe inside a giant carton. In India, where the last-mile delivery is often accomplished on two-wheelers (or on foot), there is even greater scope for being environmentally conscious.
So perhaps, over this holiday season, you can change the way Secret Santa is organised at your workplace. Maybe your colleagues could come together and place orders for gifts as a group from a local store. You could have them sent to your office address through the standard delivery method, even if it takes a *gasp* a week to arrive. As for me, I live in a city that still thinks it’s a sleepy village, so I have never really received any package through express shipping. Anything less than two weeks and I am pretty grateful (most times I am pretty thrilled if the package doesn’t get lost in the mail). And so, this holiday season, I am gifting myself the smug glow of being unexpectedly sustainable. For others, there is a local ahimsa silk centre and a ton of bamboo stuff. And if I really like you, I may even send you some stationery made from rhino poop, lovingly procured from Kaziranga.