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Shipping & Shopping: Making Choices That Minimize Our Footprint

Posted by Rose on

Shipments through USPS

Wise decisions we make as consumers and businesses support a healthier planet.

Upon a Sympatico order’s arrival, some customers may be surprised a bit by the lack of packaging I use: a simple US Postal Service box or envelope. No tissue paper, no plastic bags, no bubble pack—just your clothing and a receipt.

This lack of trimmings isn’t about stinginess—it’s a conscious decision and goes to the heart of why I started Sympatico. As an artisan and entrepreneur I feel it’s important that all my business decisions align with my personal convictions. While a marketing consultant might suggest more elaborate packaging is part of establishing a brand, I’d like to think doing less where packaging is concerned is not only a brand statement in itself, it’s also where I stand.

Why I use USPS whenever I can

Aside from other green reasons to use the US Postal Service for Sympatico shipping, I live about eight miles away from the nearest post office. My mail carrier, Sara, faithfully picks up outgoing Sympatico packages as she makes her rounds along our forested, mountainous route. (Watch for a story about Sara in a forthcoming post!)

But that’s just for starters. The USPS supports recycled and closed-loop manufacturing of packaging materials. It’s also updating the fleet with new, eco-friendly vehicles that minimize carbon emissions. And as I note below, having a single vehicle (like Sara’s) make numerous deliveries of goods, saves dozens of round trips to town, just in my neighborhood.

Another thing the Post Office deserves credit for is its impact on the prices charged by UPS, Fedex, and the other delivery services. By making its rates very competitive, the USPS has a large share of the small-package delivery business, and from my experience, does a great job while keeping prices in check. And of course, only the post office is willing to serve the more remote, less populated corners of America, making it a lifeline for the people who live in those places.

Shop in person or shop online?

It’s no surprise that some of the environmental considerations of shipping also apply to shopping. Treehugger, citing the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, points out that two 20-pound packages shipped via overnight air—the most energy-intensive method—still consumes only 60 percent of the energy used to make a 20-mile round-trip to a store. Change the comparison to ground shipping, and it only uses one tenth the energy. The Treehugger story goes into the math that makes this the case.

Clearly, there are advantages to shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. Being able to touch, try on clothes, quiz a salesperson, or handle the product are all valid reasons to consider shopping in person. Another factor in its favor is the additional packaging materials used by goods shipped from online warehouses. And of course, if you’re committed to shopping locally (and I hope you are) then some travel is likely.

As with shipping questions, a lot of it comes down to where you live. A city dweller with well-stocked stores and public transit close at hand has an entirely different set of options from suburbanites and rural folks. But for anyone who’s shopping for unique or hard-to-find things, the decision may tip in favor of online shopping.

So it depends. And when you do order online, keep in mind that bundling items into a single package, when possible, will help green up the process a bit.

What do you think? How do you decide where to shop?

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