Study: Ecommerce Is Less Polluting Than Fixed Fashion Retail?

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Felicia Endres

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For the same product, the carbon footprint of in-store purchases is 2.3 times greater than online purchase, according to a study by Oliver Wyman and published by Ecommerce in Europe. The study, conducted in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Great Britain, highlights the special impact of clothing trade in terms of emissions.

Oliver Wyman

The analysis focuses exclusively on carbon dioxide emissions. It takes into account transportation from warehouse to consumer (including road to store), packaging as well as energy consumption of buildings and information tools related to traditional sales and online sales. For the three product categories examined (clothing, books, and electronic products) in the five target countries, it was found that buying in a store causes an average of 4,052 grams of carbon dioxide, compared to 879 grams for buying online.

The diversity of supply networks and differences in terrain naturally lead to deviations from one region to another. France has the lowest emissions for both online ordering (445g) and in-store sales (2,441g). The worst are the values ​​for Italy for online sales (1020g) and Spain for steady sales (3586g). In terms of channel differences, the UK has the largest gap, with physical retail emissions 6.4 times higher than those from e-commerce, followed by France (5.5 times).

In terms of product groups, fashion is the most polluted sector with an average of 952 grams of CO2 per online purchase and 5.505 grams of in-store purchase, which is 5.8 times more. Online sales emissions range from 547 grams in France to 1,096 grams in Italy, while retailer emissions for stationary clothing range from 2,959 grams in France to 7,526 grams in Germany.

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What are the emission factors by channel?

As part of the investigation, the different emission factors of the two channels are also of course verified. In the case of stationary retail, the primary factor is the customer’s journey to the point of sale (66%), before energy consumption in stores and warehouses (29%). Additionally, there is a relatively low impact of transportation between warehouses and POS (2%) and consumption associated with IT tools (3%).

Oliver Wyman

In e-commerce, carbon dioxide emissions are down 4.6 times, and they are mainly caused by last-mile delivery (42%), ahead of energy consumption by IT tools (20%) and buildings (19%)). Transport packaging causes 13% of CO2 emissions, which is added an additional 5% to deliver the order to the carrier.

However, this does not exclude that there are still opportunities to improve e-commerce that must be taken into account. The study says: “Delivery of the parcel by road from a warehouse in Europe emits up to 30 grams of carbon dioxide more than land delivery from a national warehouse.” 14% of the recorded cases are related to cross-border e-commerce, and 8% are within Europe itself.However, the 100-page document indicates that order delivery is the traffic that would generate from the same purchase if it was in a store to reduce it by 4 To 9 times.


When it comes to improving stores, size plays an important role. The study states, “It is assumed that the products of the major retailers will be transported from the national warehouses to the regional warehouses (in semi-trailers 40 tons) and then in single trucks (7.5 tons) to the retailers.” “Products intended for small shops are delivered as renewal goods and are considered commercial parcels: they are first sent from a national warehouse to a post office and then to a shop by truck (only a few boxes at a time).

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The fact that fashion retail is now regularly cited as one of the most polluting sectors is also linked to the nature of its stores, the report says. According to Oliver Wyman, fashion stores sell an average of 100 items per square meter. This is half of the other categories examined and increases carbon dioxide emissions.

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