Belgium is full of “real” shops and without e-commerce: Paul Magnet’s interview published on Monday in the Flemish weekly Humo provoked many reactions. In a cascade of reactions in the end, the president of the PS specified that no, he is ” there is no question of all e-commerce disappearing “. His exit, the socialist explained since then, was primarily a model of Amazon and large multinational companies that send packages to the four corners of the world every second.
Still: apart from the social aspects (night work, greater flexibility, etc.), the impact of online sales on the environment, whether caused by internet giants or small local artisans, deserves to be reconsidered. The e-commerce sector has exploded in Belgium: in 2020, almost 108 million transactions were recorded (+ 26.5% compared to 2019); an average of 279 euros was spent … every second.
Defenders and slanderers of e-commerce oppose the issue of its ecological balance, following reports. Funded by Amazon (!), A report by consulting firm Oliver Wyman states that ” Shopping in stores results in an average of two to three times more greenhouse gas emissions than shopping online. “. This is because a van full of packages would emit less CO2 than a dozen consumers who traveled to the store behind the wheel of their personal vehicle.
An argument opposed by the National Council of Shopping Centers, which, on the contrary, confirmed that French shopping centers have a better carbon footprint, with customers buying an average of 6.3 products there.
What seems crucial in the balance is the frequency of deliveries. However, the current online sales model, under pressure from Amazon & co, is favoring faster and faster home deliveries. Unlike “relay point” delivery, home delivery generally involves multiplying travel. According to a Belgian study, the impact of delivery on the environment is reduced if it is done at the place of delivery. And free returns, often cited as a point of sale, also do not push travel restrictions.
According to Greenpeace research, a quarter of packages ordered by Germans under the age of 30 would be returned to the sender. To avoid storing these diverted items, Amazon would also set up a “mass destruction” system, the former employee says.
The ecological balance of online sales is even more difficult if product packaging is taken into account. In the United States, where more than 100 billion packages are shipped each year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that packaging for online shopping accounts for 30% of solid waste produced in households. The size of the packaging also plays a role: according to a study conducted on a 621 package sent to Belgium, the filling rate of the package is on average only 63%. Reducing the size of the packaging by 20% would therefore save loading space and thus use fewer trucks.
According to BeCommerce, an organization representing companies active in the Belgian digital market, consumers can still reconcile online shopping and the environment, especially by choosing the place and time of delivery wisely, avoiding package returns or grouping their orders.