Should we all just order groceries online?

Researchers make the green case for ordering groceries from your computer.

On the surface it seems like the pinnacle of lazy consumerism (or convenience): buying groceries online. Just a couple of clicks and your groceries are soon delivered to your doorstep. But it's not just easier, it's also more sustainable.

New research from the University of Washington found that using grocery delivery services can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half compared to individuals making car trips to the grocery store. Here's a very simplified illustration of how this works:

Using Seattle, Washington as a case study, the researchers also found that grocery delivery companies could save big on carbon emissions -- 80 to 90 percent -- if they delivered on routes where customers are clustered together rather than catering to individual household requests at specific times.

It's a relevant discussion to have since big names are getting into grocery delivery business. Amazon has its Fresh service in Seattle, and grocery chains Safeway and Giant have delivery services in various U.S. cities. And not to be outdone, Google is experimenting with a same-day delivery service for food, among other items. If nothing else it gives these companies an extra marketing pitch other than convenience.

But it's not just dense urban areas that could benefit. The study found there were emissions reductions in both urban and suburban areas, which leads the researchers to believe that the service could also reduce emissions in rural areas.

Of course, if you can just walk to the grocery store you win.

The research was published in the Journal of the Transportation Research Forum and you can read the full paper here.

Photo: Flickr/amish.patel

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