Digitalisation can make consumption more sustainable

Product information, purchase decision and delivery – Consumption 4.0 won’t happen all by itself

A computer keybord with a green button with a shopping cart.Click to enlarge
Digitalisation can make consumption more sustainable
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Personalised advertisement, instant delivery, virtual shopping assistants and contactless payment show that consumption and digitalisation have become closely linked. A new report from the German Environment Agency (UBA) says it is not yet known whether this link will lead to greater pollution. The current analysis is that digitalisation offers good opportunities to use resources more efficiently, for example through second hand platforms or “green” apps. Environmental policy must give stronger support for and communicate such sustainability developments.

Digitalisation is changing the way we work, produce, communicate and also how we consume. Smart ways of ordering are making it possible to buy, pay and get delivery started with one click of a button or by voice command. New logistics procedures are enabling instant, same-day delivery, and digital payment processes are speeding up and making purchase processes simpler.

An analysis by UBA showed that ordering online in rural areas often saves CO2 emissions. This is because the collection of many consignments by the postal service replaces consumer car trips to go shopping. The situation is rather different when it comes to instant or same-day delivery service, which generates relatively high levels of CO2 emissions since consignments can no longer be delivered together.

Personalised advertisement strengthens merchants’ or producers’ possibility to exert some influence. Product placement, viral campaigns and product reviews encourage purchase decisions that are geared towards increasing the amount of consumption. On the other hand, the far reach which social media and product review websites have on digitally connected consumers increases pressure on producers to operate in a more environmentally friendly way, for example by not using plastic packaging or by producing more durable goods.

Green apps and websites in particular provide great opportunities to make sustainable consumer choices or to use existing products longer or more efficiently in order to reduce the burden on the environment. Some apps make it as easy as scanning a barcode to get information about the pollutants contained in a product or how it was produced. Other apps provide a platform for trading, exchanging or donating used clothing. There are also ride sharing apps or apps which let users pick up leftover bread which would otherwise be thrown away from the bakery.

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau

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