What is the environmental impact of online commerce?

Online sales have taken full advantage of the Covid-19, its consumers confined and physical competitors closed. Between 2019 and 2020, the sector grew from 46 to 63 billion euros (up 37%), now reaching almost 13% of retail trade. While confirming the growing economic weight of this market, a report submitted to the government in February and made public on March 12 also reveals its environmental impact.

Produced by France Stratégie, the General Council for the Environment and Sustainable Development and the General Inspectorate of Finance, the document distinguishes “Several trends […] likely to degrade the environmental record of online commerce “, and invites to “Consider with caution” inventories “Very positive” sometimes brandished by industry players in this area.

Less than 1% of new land artificializations

The report will first enlighten the deputies who are working on the Climate and Resilience bill, the legislative vehicle for the proposals of the Citizen’s Climate Convention. Several parliamentarians tabled amendments so that article 52 of the text – which “Establishes a general principle of prohibiting the creation of new commercial areas which would lead to artificialization of the land” – imposes itself on e-commerce warehouses.

The study estimates that these sites represent “Less than 1%” new artificial surfaces every year, on average. A “Marginal impact”, has already described the government in a statement, which will play the game of opponents to the amendments.

Climate, the main measures of the bill

“We have never said that the problem of soil artificialization in France rests on e-commerce warehouses, analysis Alma Dufour, overproduction and overconsumption campaign manager at Friends of the Earth. If we were asking for a moratorium on warehouses, it was not so much for artificialization as such as to limit commercial overcapacity. This report at least has the merit of making the observations that we expected, particularly in environmental matters. “

“Optimize flows”

The survey concludes that the frequency of purchases, which is constantly increasing, and the systems for optimizing customer service (distribution in less than 24 hours, division of the order into several trips, free return, etc.) are always generating more ” greenhouse gas and fine particle emissions, “With major health consequences”. The rapporteurs recommend that the “Last mile delivery” favors “Low-carbon fleets” and “Optimizes flows”.

“The essential issue is first of all the flow of goods, transport, confirms Frédéric Bordage, founder of the group of experts GreenIT.fr. The only way to reduce the impact of deliveries is to optimize routes by pooling routes. A bonus-penalty system for grouping shipments could be considered. We really have to encourage traders not to divide orders anymore, as is too much the case today. ”

The government launches a “consultation process”

The government has already announced the mission of Anne-Marie Idrac, president of France Logistique, and France Stratégie to lead a “Consultation process” with stakeholders in the sector, and “Bring out the conditions for the development of more responsible e-commerce and logistics sectors”.

Could French regulations really correct the drifts of a largely internationalized industry? “We need a pilot fish at the legislative level, defends Frédéric Bordage. France says it wants to be the right student of a more responsible digital? Let us lay down rules that could encourage others and end up producing European law, which would be more binding on it. “

The worrying employment figures, contained in the report, could encourage regulation of a sector in which the major players have often boasted of creating jobs in abundance. They would also participate in their destruction. “The stronger the online commerce in a sector, the more marked the drop in employment”, observe the authors, who judge ” indispensable “ of “Quick decisions to preserve the diversity of modes of commerce”.


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