E-commerce: Friend or foe of the green planet?

Fast, convenient, economical – online shopping has many outstanding advantages that makes it an irresistible trend.

Vietnam – the fertile land of e-commerce

Vietnam’s e-commerce has been growing tremendously in recent years. According to the e-Conomy SEA 2018 report from Google and Temasek, the size of Vietnam’s e-commerce market in 2018 was $9 billion, with a Compound Average Growth Rate (CAGR) of the period 2015 – 2018 at 25%. The report also estimated that the market would reach $33 billion by 2025, ranking third in Southeast Asia1.

Vietnam also owns 5 out of 10 most visited e-commerce platforms in Southeast Asia: tiki.vn, sendo.vn, thegioididong.com, dienmayxanh.com and FPTshop.com.vn – according to a report by iPrice Group2.

The actual impact on the environment

E-commerce is expected to play a vital part in protecting the environment, thanks to the application of modern technology; smart delivery scheduling which reduces consumer visits to physical stores; online payment which reduces paper used in printing cash or bill…

But the reality is not entirely so. In the article “The problem of packaging waste from e-commerce is becoming more serious”, Pam Baker analyzed that before Internet existed, the logistics of traditional retail industry was simple and linear. The e-commerce logistics system now is more complicated, and the package is transported through more people.

During the transportation, each box is dropped at an average of 17 times – according to ANAMA’s research, a US-based packaging inspection service. Therefore, companies often pack goods excessively with layers of paper and plastic bags, then it is covered with an additional layer of bubble wrap before putting in the box to ensure that the products reach consumers in perfect condition.

On average, the US has about 165 billion packages shipped to consumers per year. The number of cardboards used for packaging is equivalent to more than one billion trees, according to Fast Company report3.

Vietnam does not have such detailed statistics, yet online shoppers often receive large, bulky boxes, even though the order is small and fragile-free. Sometimes a single order can be delivered many times because each product is stored in a different warehouse. What’s more, if customers are not satisfied with the product, they could exchange or return, giving rise to more trips and emissions. Besides, ordering food online also harm the environment when food vendors pack them with styrofoam boxes and single-use plastic instead of using and washing ordinary tableware.

Therefore, if carefully measured, the “carbon footprint” – the amount of carbon dioxide you emit in your daily activities – will surely trigger concerns among environmentalists. Does e-commerce help reduce the burden of pollution on earth as many people expected, or is it creating more waste for the planet?

Positive changes

More and more people are choosing a green lifestyle by carefully tracking the “carbon footprint” in their daily activity. Big names in the e-commerce industry have also taken positive steps to reduce pollution.

In September 2019, Amazon launched a series of initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, 10 years ahead in comparison to the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

We decide to use our scale to make a difference. If a company with bulky infrastructure that sells more than 10 billion goods a year like Amazon could reach the goal of the Paris Agreement 10 years earlier, then any company can,” Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon stated.

To implement, Amazon will put electric trucks into use from 2021, gradually increasing to 10,000 trucks by 2022 and 100,000 by 2030. By that time, Amazon’s fleet is expected to help reduce up to 4 million tons of carbon emissions. Amazon also aims to convert 80% of the energy the company use into renewable energy by 2024, and 100% by 20304.

In Vietnam, GrabFood is the first name in the online food delivery market to take practical steps to reduce plastic waste. From November 5, 2019, disposable plastic tableware will no longer be provided by default when customers order food. If customers want to use a plastic spoon and fork, they must make a request at checkout5.

Thus, when using GrabFood, customers have the choice to choose to create or reduce plastic waste. Each choice, although as small as it seems, shows the responsibility to Earth itself.

Whether e-commerce is “green” or not depends entirely on consumers’ choices – the key factor to induce brands to act for the environment.

 

Author Nhung Do is a copywriter of EloQ Communications. Nhung Do has over 10 years of experience in journalism, book writing, teaching and content creation. Her first book, entitled “Fox Tail Fire – 100 Finnish Stories”, tells about cultural experiences in the land of a thousand lakes, Finland. In the interest of transparency, Grab is a client of EloQ Communications.

 

References:

  • https://andrews.edu.vn/bao-cao-chi-so-thuong-mai-dien-tu-viet-nam-nam-2019-tang-truong-toan-dien-dat-tren-30/
  • https://theleader.vn/viet-nam-chiem-mot-nua-trong-10-san-thuong-mai-dien-tu-lon-nhat-dong-nam-a-1568523739011.htm
  • https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonbird1/2018/07/29/what-a-waste-online-retails-big-packaging-problem/#3b9129f2371d
  • https://techcrunch.com/2019/09/19/amazons-climate-pledge-commits-to-net-zero-carbon-emissions-by-2040-and-100-renewables-by-2030/
  • https://www.grab.com/my/food-blog/everyactmatters/