Austrian study: online is more sustainable

On behalf of the Austrian Post, the Federal Environment Agency analyzed the climate effects of online and stationary retail purchases. In addition, the economic impact of national and international online retailing was examined. The result: climate-friendly parcel delivery offers potential savings in greenhouse gas emissions. If customers also use domestic online retailers, this positively affects the Austrian economy.

“Our scenarios show many opportunities to save greenhouse gas emissions in stationary and online retail. The key factors are shopping and return trips; they can significantly impact the carbon footprint. Therefore, in terms of the climate balance, a targeted offer and an optimized combination of stationary and online retail make sense,” explains Günther Lichtblau, a climate expert at the Federal Environment Agency.

E-commerce is a green form of shopping

The study by the Federal Environment Agency confirms what other studies have already shown, namely that e-commerce is highly efficient. For example, consolidated parcel delivery can save up to 56 percent of greenhouse gas emissions compared to stationary retail. Furthermore, suppose returns are optimized, and the vehicle fleet is converted to e-drives. In that case, as is the case at Austrian Post, the leverage is much greater still,” explains Peter Umundum, Board Director for Parcel & Logistics, Austrian Post.

Online is more sustainable

The study underlines that online retailing is superior to brick-and-mortar retailing regarding climate footprint in the most common practical scenarios. In rural and urban areas, and when returns are included, online retail generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions per product than brick-and-mortar retailing.

To draw up the comparison of environmental impacts, the Federal Environment Agency considered all emissions and processes that impact greenhouse gases. In addition, representatives of the electronics, clothing, and book industries, typical online retailers, contributed their experience.

The calculation of a total of 42 scenarios shows:

  1. The reduction in car journeys has a positive effect on the climate balance. Consolidated parcel transport can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 56 percent. For example, the consolidated delivery of around 150 parcels in a parcel transporter by Swiss Post is more efficient than 150 individual car journeys to buy one product each.
  2. Returns have a significant impact on the carbon footprint. However, optimizing the process, using reusable packaging and vehicles with alternative drive systems can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from online returns.
  3. Transport with alternative drive systems, such as e-vehicles, reduces greenhouse gas emissions in online retailing by over 60 percent.

The economic value of e-commerce

Economic analysis shows that the larger the share of Austrian trade, the higher the value added and jobs created by online trade in Austria. In concrete terms, this means: If the entire e-commerce demand flows into international online trade, only one new job is created in Austria for every one million euros increase in demand. If, however, the increase in demand were to go entirely to domestic retailers, six new jobs would be created in Austria.
The same applies to value added: the share of value-added remaining in Austria would increase by almost five.


When calculating greenhouse gas emissions, all emissions that impact greenhouse gases were considered and presented in so-called CO2 equivalent emissions (CO₂e). Carbon dioxide serves as the reference gas for recording other climate gases, and other gases such as methane and nitrogen monoxide were considered according to their climate impact. The conversion was done per the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) specifications. All essential processes are considered in the modeling, from primary energy and raw material extraction to utilized energy and material supply. This means indirect emissions from upstream and downstream processes are also included in direct emissions.

Source: Post AT

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