Shopping local – how it helps the environment

Shopping locally means you can get there easily – on foot, by bicycle, or public transport. You should not need to use your car. Putney High Street has one of the highest levels of pollution in the country – and although it has improved in recent years it will not reduce to acceptable levels unless people stop using their car for short journeys. Walking to your local facilities reduces your carbon footprint by reducing the greenhouse gases you would have emitted. Car emissions account for 15% of the UK’s overall carbon emissions according to the Energy Saving Trust – that’s 85 million tonnes – and many of those journeys are not actually necessary.

Home Energy Scotland have produced this very useful hierarchy triangle highlighting the impact of different forms of travel.

Shopping locally can enrich your shopping experience – and give you access to locally produced; unique items that haven’t been mass-produced. People like the friendliness and the personal nature of interacting with owners of small businesses. Small local businesses can help to create a close knit, cohesive community, which in turn helps to make it a better place and encourage people to stay in their local area more often.

Lacy Road shops
Lacy Road shops

COVID restrictions has pushed consumers out of their normal routines and certainly accelerated the impact of digital shopping. Consumers are adapting new habits and behaviours that many anticipate will continue in the long term. Online sales have been rising steadily over the last decade but they have rocketed during the pandemic. People have had no choice but to buy their food on line, and now with non essential retail closed it is hard to buy your Christmas presents without defaulting to online. When you shop online, your money goes out of your community and doesn’t circulate in your local economy. In 2020 this is more important than ever. These are desperate times for local businesses who may normally get half a year’s worth of sales in the lead up to Christmas. If you want to see your favourite business in your local high street in 2021 then make sure you support it now. Thankfully, the virus has also increased desire to shop local – reflected in both the products consumers buy (e.g. locally sourced, artisanal) and the way they shop (e.g. supporting locally run stores). As shown on the Accenture graph below shopping more health consciously and making more sustainable choices are in top three priorities for consumers.

An 18 month study undertaken by six PhD students in Environmental Science at Radboud University in the Netherlands reported in July that one of the main issues with online shopping is people only buy a few items per purchase. When they shop in a store, they aggregate these purchases in a single bulk purchase. Frequent online purchases produce more packaging waste, and online items tend to come from different distribution centres. Both factors result in higher greenhouse gas emissions per item. The team modelled their research on the movement of goods from the factory all the way through to the end consumer. They then specifically focused on the part of the retail supply chain called “the last mile” delivery: the distance between a store to a customer, or in the case of online shopping, the distance between the distribution centre for the goods to the customer.

They analysed the carbon footprint of the “last mile delivery” for the three most prevalent types of shopping channels in the United Kingdom — physical stores, “brick & clicks” (when people order online and a physical store delivers the items to them), and online only sellers. Included in the three models were greenhouse gas emissions estimates from number of products bought, transportation, warehouse storage, delivery and packaging activities. Ordering from online-only retailers, meanwhile, produced the most emissions. This could be explained by failed deliveries, high rates of returns on items bought online, and longer distances from warehouses to individual homes. And with the advent of free two-day or even one-day shipping (like Amazon Prime offer), carbon footprints can skyrocket as more items are moved by aircraft.

If like me, you are an early November Christmas shopper and can’t wait until 3rd December to start shopping then look to see if your favourite retailers are now selling online this year. I normally buy a considerable amount of my children’s Christmas presents from Kidstuff in Putney Exchange, a fantastic independent toy shop. I had not had time to visit before lockdown 2, so last weekend I went onto their website and spent my money that way. If they had been offering click and collect I would have taken that option but this time I had to have it delivered but at least I know I am helping to support them. 

This year with the difficulty of physically seeing family members investigate giving a voucher or an experience instead of a gift. That will save on postage, wrapping paper, tape and a printed card and help with cash flow of a struggling business owner.

Even a blend of online and local shopping could help in the battle to fight climate change because every little bit helps. Together, we can make a big difference. If we all start with paying attention to the Christmas gifts we buy this year we will be helping Wandsworth’s town centres both environmentally and economically.

This was presented as part of the Wandsworth Climate Summit by Nicola Grant, Executive Director, Positively Putney on Thursday 19th November 2020. Click here to learn about the sustainable projects that Positively Putney have undertaken.

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