When is the last time you ordered 25 items in one internet shopping spree? Did the work of 3.5 shopping trips in one online shopping experience? Drove 50 kilometers to get to the shopping mall? That’s the distance you’d have to travel to outweigh the carbon impact of a typical online shopping spree, seeing as they now have to ship all purchases to each customer individually, rather than shipping everybody’s purchases to the single store location. In other words, visiting your local shopping mall is more environmentally friendly than making your purchases online.
The Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) at Newcastle has examined a phenomenon they call the “rebound effect,” in which well-intentioned green policies have side effects that diminish or completely overturn the initial carbon emission reductions. The implications of this particular study are still unclear, as it was performed in Britain, where shopping and transportation habits may differ from those of the typical American. The differences in mass transit systems, bicycle culture, and convenience of a car would influence the carbon emissions reductions possible.
This rebound effect can also be seen in telecommuting, or working from home. This practice increased energy use by 30%. It also allows people to live further from the workplace, which in turn would put them further from other things, increasing what is known as “urban sprawl.” Nobody says it better than the chair of the IET Transport Policy Panel Phil Blythe. Put simply, “policy makers must do their homework to ensure that rebound effects do not negate the positive benefits of their policy initiatives and simply move carbon emissions from one sector to another.”