Posted by: nickgerlich | February 20, 2008

But Is It Green?

What with all the attention paid to global warming and the like, I suppose it is only fair to bring e-commerce under the “green” microscope. After all, companies far and wide are doing all they can to paint themselves green, whether it be for legitimate environmental or just basic PR purposes.

BuyGreenThere also is no shortage of online firms selling green goods, such as BuyGreen.com, making environmentally friendly goods readily available, especially in markets not served by such vendors. No doubt a social “good” is being created when suppliers make these products available for mass distribution, for it aids the cause.

But the question still remains: Is e-commerce green?

In a word, no. But before you send out a posse, allow me to explain. Sure, whenever you buy something online you are not only enjoying the convenience of shopping from home, but also saving gas in your own tank. But that is offset by the fuel expense of having your purchase delivered.

Can anyone say carbon offsets?

The truth of the matter is, if someone wants to truly be green, they wouldn’t differentiate between BAM and e-commerce as much as they would between local and non-local. You see, it takes fuel to bring all those goods to a local market. Each boat load of Chinese toys, while certainly cheaper than just about anything made in the USA, leaves behind a smoky trail of pollutants. Each nectarine, plum, or peach we eat in winter eat up a lot of fuel being transported from Chile. And each bottle of French wine didn’t just float across the Atlantic.

While Thomas Friedman was quite eloquent in describing the new flat world, I’m not quite sure he differentiated between purely electronic outsourcing vs. importation of finished goods. And never mind what we all have been taught in international economics about comparative advantage. If you really want to be green, you almost have to toss all that away.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I love a good peach in winter as much as the next guy (and we have bought our fair share of Chinese-made toys). Living in the Texas Panhandle, it would be a meager existence without the “luxury” of goods brought in from the outside, be they Wisconsin cheese, California grapes, or Florida oranges. Good grief, a fellow could starve out here (calorically as well as socially).

Which means I suppose we have to make some decisions. How important is it to be green? And how far do we take it? And most importantly, let’s be sure to not confuse online shopping with Al Gore’s campaign.

Unless you put your Hummer up on blocks and turn it into a wifi hotspot.

Dr “Not Quite Ready To Buy Everything Locally” Gerlich

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