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Carbon emissions generated by online shopping are more than a third lower than those produced by visiting bricks and mortar stores, according to latest research.

A report produced by property developer Prologis found e-commerce brings clear sustainability benefits and the use of last mile logistics facilities could dramatically reduce transport-related carbon emissions.

Home deliveries have rocketed during the pandemic, but they have also led to concerns that they are not as environmentally friendly as many believe, with high return rates and increased packaging.

But the research from Prologis revealed that carbon emissions from online shopping are 36% lower on average than visits to physical stores.

The report found that placing goods as close as possible to the end user, in urban fulfilment centres, can reduce emissions by a further 50%, while also speeding up delivery and reducing the overall cost.

It said the added benefit of these last-mile logistics facilities was that shorter delivery routes lend themselves well to the use of electric vans and bikes.

The report noted that EVs can decrease average transportation-related emissions by 27%.

Robin Woodbridge, Prologis head of capital deployment, said: “Whilst home deliveries are often cited as being harmful to the environment, this research clearly shows that online shopping actually reduces carbon emissions, even after you factor in the higher return rates and packaging associated with this type of purchase.

“It also demonstrates that, far from contributing to higher emissions, last-mile logistics facilities can help to reduce emissions, traffic noise and congestion, especially where modes of electric transport are utilised.”

A peer-reviewed study published last year in Environmental Science & Technology found that supermarket store home deliveries – ‘bricks and clicks’ - most likely decreased greenhouse gas footprints when substituting traditional store shopping, while FMCGs purchased through pure players with parcel delivery often have higher footprints compared to those purchased via traditional retail.

The study also found that the number of items purchased and the last-mile travel distance were the dominant contributors to the variability in the greenhouse gas footprints of all three retail methods.