Oh Dear

I cannot see the future, but I sense certain cultural changes in ours.

Because, of course, there will be the short-term adjustments in regards to social interaction, emergency preparedness, the search for Truth, and such. And these will continue to have significant impact on what we think of ourselves and the world for some time to come. And we will likely see even longer-term changes in our work and leisure lives, as well, with ideas and attitudes about everything from telecommuting and virtual learning to handshakes and hangouts completely rebooted.

I wonder, though, how all of this will play out in terms of running a small brick-and-mortar business like mine, since we were already facing the need to reinvent IRL retail, and now may have even fewer degrees of freedom than before.

In my case, for example, I have not heeded calls to list my stock online, primarily because I think having product shipped to the store already does damage enough to the planet; I do not want to add repackaging and reshipping into the mix.

But I have read that, sustainably speaking, online shopping is no worse than in-person shopping, and that online shopping may even, under ideal conditions, have a smaller carbon footprint by half.

Whenever I hear or read something is true "under ideal conditions," however, it gives me pause.

So what are the facts?

Well, it appears so-called 'slow shipping' is an ecological win, so long as only one leg of the journey is taken into account; meaning the carbon footprint of retailers shipping product to consumers.

The problem with most of these analyses, though, is that they fail to also take into account for all of the other business-to-business resources used to get products to retailers, not to mention what it takes to move about consumer returns.

Add to this the fact that modern consumers have little patience for slow shipping, and that the preferred faster shipping options increase the resource spend significantly, and online shopping has - at best - about the same impact as shopping in-person.

When you account for the shoppers who first go to physical locations to 'experience' the product before ordering it online with express delivery, and all the product that is returned, well then, forget-about-it.

So, it appears the fact is that in the real world, online shopping is usually, most likely, far less sustainable than shopping in-person, IRL, wherein you rely on this 'app' called Actual Face Time.

The good news - if you want to call it that - is that because these types of analyses focus mostly only on fuel use and packaging, it also appears that it might be safe to say that so long as we can reduce the overall resources required to ship stuff to-and-fro, online shopping in-and-of-itself may not always be as ecologically toxic as it is now.

The bad news - and it is bad news - is that we have potentially more important things to worry about. Because it appears the fact is also that the carbon cost of shipping product from place-to-place, and in many cases, back again, pales in comparison to the carbon cost of making things with unsustainably, environmentally and ethically toxic materials and processes.

Nonetheless, it appears the way forward for retail has to be some combination of online and in-person selling (lets call it the reverse mullet business model for now).

Consequently, I am finally coming around to setting up a system to facilitate in-person and online retail for Sustainable Exchange.

But honestly, all I can say about the thought of introducing even more drastic change at the moment is, oh dear.

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