This blog has a serious identity problem. I twist and turn from small micro issues to the macro, but I think we could all do a lot of good in focusing on the big issues that plague us. One of these “big problems” for the US economy is energy independence. Might a solution for energy independence be as simple as shopping online?
I’m no tree hugger—not in the least, but I can recognize a serious problem when I see one. We consume too much, and save far too little. One area in which every American consumer could afford to cut back is in energy consumption.
Online shopping to solve energy woes
There’s a lot of merit in using online retailing as a mechanism to reduce total energy consumption. Websites are very energy efficient, inexpensive to operate, and warehouses are infinitely more efficient than storefronts. Where you and I would hate to go shopping in a store that is air conditioned only to 80 degrees, we don’t mind shopping from the comfort of our homes from a warehouse that is hardly air conditioned at all. That alone brings big savings, but there’s more!
A study by the Center for Energy & Climate Solutions finds that:
- Shipping two 20 pound containers via overnight air is 40% less energy intensive than driving 20 miles round-trip in your automobile to get the same products.
- Shipping the same containers via ground shipping is 10 times more efficient than doing the same in a car.
The reasons for this are fairly obvious:
- Delivery trucks and planes can distribute the cost of fuel over many thousands of pounds of cargo.
- Your car isn’t as fuel efficient as you might think. Turning it on and off repeatedly is a sure-fire way of killing your own gas mileage, especially for intra-city commutes.
The raw numbers
Supposedly, it takes .6 gallons of fuel to send a package 1000 miles by plane, and .1 gallons by ground.
It’s easy to see how I save on fuel consumption when shopping online. I live no more than 2 miles away from a Target, Walmart, Best Buy, and other “big box stores.” However, in between my home and the shopping center are at least 4 stoplights, all of which can be as long as 1-2 minutes. If traffic is heavy, it may take me 15 minutes to travel only 2 miles.
Since 2009, Americans have used less energy in commuting by car. Freakonomics took a stab at the declines, noting that:
- Female participation in the workforce has peaked.
- Energy prices reduce the marginal benefit of another trip in a car.
These are important points, but I’m thinking that online shopping may have something to do with it, too.
In the aggregate, the amount of miles driven each year has an exponential effect on our own willingness to drive. If we each added 5 more miles to our weekly commutes, congestion would be horrendous. By eliminating only a few shopping trips with online retailers, we can replace several hundred cars with a single USPS, Fedex, or UPS truck.
Just think what that does to reduce congestion and increase total fuel economy. If you go driving at 3PM, there really isn’t that much more traffic than at rush hour. But even 10% more cars make driving almost unbearable. Ten percent fewer cars would naturally make the roadways far less congested, and improve total fuel efficiency.
Is reducing our dependence on foreign oil easier than political fights over drilling rights or oil company tax breaks? Could we solve our energy problems with a very simple solution: online shopping?
Do you shop online?
Does shopping online save you shopping trips? Gasoline?
Photo by: Richard Masoner