Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos claims grocery delivery cuts carbon emissions by 43% compared to traditional shopping. Grist did a fact-check. Grist spoke with experts. They said that on average, ordering online often reduces the carbon footprint of grocery shopping. The word average is key. This finding doesn’t scale down to the individual level neatly, and the way you get your food might be very climate-friendly already.
For groceries, the last-mile problem refers to how food makes that final leg in its journey from farm to table, whether it’s coming from an e-groceries warehouse. It’s a step where a lot of carbon emissions can occur, especially if a customer is hopping in an SUV and driving 5 miles to pick up ingredients for dinner. In that case, it might be more efficient for a delivery truck to drop off the ingredients, especially if that truck is already making dozens of other trips in the neighborhood. If a customer is a person in a single household and he drives to the store and drives back, that is an entire car that is dedicated to a round trip to and from the store. While a delivery truck is likely to have higher carbon emissions per mile compared with a personal car, the miles associated with that grocery cart are much smaller because the supplier can bring lots of groceries on a single truck.
If the customer is already walking, biking, or driving an electric vehicle to the store, getting groceries dropped off via a truck will likely cause their last-mile emissions to rise.
Hubs and stores
Food that comes straight from a distribution hub also avoids the carbon emissions associated with the grocery store itself. Grocery stores are very energy-intensive compared with central warehouses. Grocery stores also add another step in the supply chain from farm to consumer which results in additional food waste.
Switching to online shopping might also change your shopping behavior in ways that make it worse for the environment. Perhaps, instead of getting all of the groceries in one carefully planned shopping outing, the customers start placing lots of smaller orders online, resulting in more truck trips. How our food makes that last-mile journey to the doorstep has a much smaller climate impact than the types of food we’re eating. When it comes to the climate impact of our food choices, what we eat is far more important than how we get it. And there are other ethical considerations at play here beyond the carbon footprint of your meal. Further research is necessary.