As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

When is a tube of toothpaste a weapon of destruction?

The New York Times has a front page story about the environmental impact of e-commerce on New York.  The piece chronicles everything from traffic violations (515,000 traffic summonses of FedEx, FreshDirect, Peapod, and UPS alone), to developers creating soulless warehouses in poor neighborhoods, to apartment buildings using public sidewalks as Amazon sorting stations (compromising  fully 50% of all shipments.)

Ecommerce is here to stay, but do we really want it to grow thoughtlessly beyond its current 10% of retail purchases?  It’s time to connect the dots between climate change and e-commerce.

Obviously, I started a business in this area so I am part of the e-commerce mix. But it’s run amuck. Do we really need a single tube of toothpaste delivered within the same day when we compromise our public streets, local retailer survival,  jobs, and the environment for that convenience? If I really believed we each used the 20 minutes we save by not going  to a local shop to instead work in a soup kitchen I’d be down with that.  But I don’t.

Here’s what I propose:

  • Whatever you can buy locally, do.  I mean groceries, hardware, health and beauty products, clothes, food, and the like.  Of course there are plenty of great products that are only available online–save your environmental compromises for those. I.e. make it worth it.  But keep local retail jobs and streetscapes alive AND show your concern for the planet by doing a little bit of schlepping.
  • Pick “ship to store” as a delivery option.  It’s more efficient and chances are your showing up to collect your packages will help keep that store in business.
  • Pick slower delivery times. One and two day deliveries are inefficient and have really increased environmental damage, traffic congestion, and road deaths due to hurried and inexperienced last mile drivers.  Consider climate over convenience where possible.

As always, I feel like the Lorax on this issue.  But our kids depend on us to model our values.  Since we as consumers control almost 70% of our economy, seemingly small shifts in behavior can have serious impact. I’m looking in the mirror as I write this, knowing I have a [totally non-urgent] Sephora package on the way. I’m going to work hard to re-instate my habit of “errands lists.”  I used to always have a running tally of stuff we needed in my wallet or on my phone so I could gang up those purchases.  It caused me to discover shops, find new products, and –shudders–talk to strangers. We could all use a little more of that these days anyway.

8 Responses to “When is a tube of toothpaste a weapon of destruction?”

  1. Jill McMahon

    Yep, you are right and I can recommend walking. You can use the time you would have spent reading the reviews prior to hitting the buy button to plan a route taking in a cool coffee shop!

    • julespieri

      Such a good point about the time sink of reviews…the really weird retro fact is that traditional retailers do all of that work for you…no hours of scouring for quality required.

  2. Mikkel Moller

    We live in Pedasi, Panama, a small fishing village on the Azuero peninsula. We have learned to maintain a running list of needs so that trips are minimal and to use locally available products instead of what we used in the U.S. Yes, we do have some things shipped in via Amazon and others, but those items have decreased drastically the longer we live here. BTW: Panama just recently outlawed plastic bags and that is a good start, still too many other plastic products used, especially plastic water bottles.

    • julespieri

      I think we are all waking up (albeit slowly) and living in a less consumerist place makes that learning faster for sure. Thanks for checking in Mikkel.

  3. Sheila Torgan

    Well said (as always), Jules! We recently attended a “ladies night” at a local ACE store in Baltimore. Amazing people. I was heartened to see an incredible community turn out even in a driving rain to come together, sample and buy some great products and talk to a few strangers. A little bit goes a long way.


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