How to shop for clothes the right way, online and in store | Jobs Reply

Ways to limit your impact on the environment, no matter how you shop

(Video: Washington Post Image; Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post; Stock)


Going to a physical store; online shopping with multiple delivery options; clothing rental; Swapping: These days it can feel like there are a lot of ways to get more clothes. But which option is better for the planet?

Experts say the answer is complex. But you can make choices that will help reduce your impact, regardless of how you choose to shop.

“I don’t think it’s very easy to say, ‘Okay, buy online or go to stores,’ ” said Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a data scientist at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. “It’s really hard to say whether this is better or better, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.”

The transportation involved in getting clothes to consumers often makes up a smaller part of a garment’s environmental impact than how it is made and cared for. Still, Shahmohammadi and other experts say it’s possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing the way you get your clothes — such as how you get to the store, the shipping rate you choose and how often you return items.

Here’s what you need to know.

Online and in-store shopping both involve transportation that can produce hot air.

In many brick-and-mortar operations, companies are required to move clothing from warehouses to stores and consumers to travel to and from those stores, often in gas-guzzling vehicles. Meanwhile, online retailers often send goods to distribution centers before delivering them directly to consumers, or drop off packages at stores or other central locations where people can pick up their items.

“We have never had a distribution system in history like the one we have today, where we can order anything we want and it will be delivered reliably and cheaply to your door,” said Miguel Jaller, co-director of Sustainable Freight. Research Program at the University of California at Davis. “That comes with pros and cons.”

Research suggests that ordering online can have a smaller carbon footprint than that shopping in person for the same reason that public transportation is often better for the environment than cars. Similar to a bus full of passengers, Jaller says, a single van that delivers multiple packages to one location is more efficient than people hopping in their cars, driving to another location to shop and picking up shoppers to go home.

One model analyzing people’s behavior in Dallas and San Francisco found that online shopping alone could lead to an 87 percent reduction in vehicle miles traveled and the associated carbon footprint, according to a paper published in 2020.

But Jaller, who co-authored the paper, says his findings and other studies are often based on specific circumstances. The effect of nature and weather on how you get clothes can change a lot depending on various factors.

For some, cities can be very different. “You can’t compare an environment where people access groceries and supermarkets and shop by public transportation as opposed to an environment where everyone drives a big SUV,” Jaller said, adding that emissions can depend on companies, such as whether the retailer ships the items. over long distances or they spread widely in the area, or if they use vehicles that deliver electricity.

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Studies often find that shopping in a store can produce more emissions than ordering online because people often drive to stores. But if you decide to walk, bike or take public transportation “at least it’s more reasonable to think that the net profit of the Internet will also decrease,” says Josué Velázquez Martínez, director of the Sustainable Supply Chain Lab in Massachusetts. Institute of Technology.

Choose slow deployment and integration

The potential environmental benefits of e-commerce are primarily due to sellers having enough time to fully load delivery trucks before shipping them, said Velázquez Martínez. “Trying to consolidate delivery is key.”

However there is one big problem: People who order online usually want their items very quickly.

“A rapid deployment can cause a lot of damage to all of this,” said Velázquez Martínez. Choosing an earlier delivery date may mean your item is transported by air, which emits large amounts of CO2. The trucks that make these deliveries quickly also won’t be full, and drivers may make multiple trips to your area on the same day.

Whenever possible, experts say online shoppers should choose slower shipping options.

“In general, anyone in the supply chain agrees that having one or two or three days of delivery is always better,” said Velázquez Martínez. More delivery time makes planning, inventory replenishment and distribution “more efficient, which in turn reduces the amount of fuel and energy you need to serve your customers.”

Shahmohammadi recommends combining orders instead of getting separate deliveries. Ideally, he says, try to buy multiple items from the same supplier “to keep your feet on the ground with each delivery.”

Consolidating orders can also help address the packaging problem of online shopping, said Ting Chi, professor and chair of the department of apparel, merchandising, design and textiles at Washington State University.

Separate deliveries can lead to underfilled boxes and extra packages, which aren’t always recyclable, Chi said. “Consolidating orders into one package can make better use of box or container space.”

Shopping in person can also benefit from a type of bundling known as “trip chaining,” or when you can add multiple activities to a trip, Shahmohammadi said. You can include a stop to buy clothes on your way home from work or when you’re already out doing other things.

“If you can combine your travel and combine it with other activities, that can reduce a portion of the steps related to your clothes,” he said.

Another downside to online shopping, especially clothing, is the increased likelihood of returns. Another study by a German clothing retailer published in 2012 noted that the company reported a 35 percent return rate on online sales. The study’s researchers estimated that 6 to 10 percent of items sold at the retailer’s brick-and-mortar stores were returned.

The high return rate for clothing purchased online is not surprising. Online shoppers can’t try on clothes and often have to rely on size guides that can vary across brands. Liberal policies that allow people to return items free of charge for an exchange or full refund make returns more feasible. As a result, many people tend to order more clothes than they would buy in a store, often in different sizes, and return the ones they don’t like.

Not only can the frequency of returns cause “a large amount of environmental damage” due to the release of transportation and packaging, but sending items back can be burdensome for companies, Chi said. “Every time we see a return, they need to assign their staff to check the returned items for integrity or quality.”

Returns, he says, “could easily offset those benefits we get from online shopping.”

Customers can reduce ordering by reducing uncertainty, experts say. Read customer comments and reviews, and if it’s an option, check out a virtual try-on. Online retailers can help by providing improved customer service and more accurate pricing information, Chi adds.

Experts also recommend taking measures to reduce the chances of a failed delivery, since the truck has to make repeated attempts to deliver your package, this affects production.

Another option is to have your items delivered to a store or package pickup near you. In addition to eliminating the risk of failed deliveries, it reduces the seller’s output if packages are sent to a central location instead of multiple homes. But remember that distance and personal transportation can make a difference.

“If you have to drive a long distance to the pickup point, that can be a problem,” Velázquez Martínez said.

Although experts note that renting clothes, which has increased in popularity in recent years, has also been associated with the release of transportation since clothes are always sent around, this practice can be more friendly in nature than buying something new. The benefits, however, depend a lot on how you use the clothes, says Velázquez Martínez.

Buying basic pieces that you will wear until they wear out can be better for the environment than renting, he says. But on special occasions when you can wear a dress only when “rent, the better, the better.”

Rent the Runway wants to change your everyday wardrobe with its $89 monthly plan

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