Publication Date
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Topic(s) Covered:
  • Sourcing
  • Simulation
  • Product Development
  • Outsourcing
  • Case Study

Since the advent of the Internet in the 1990s, there has been a significant increase in online shopping in the United States. As online shopping keeps growing, so does the online retail industry. Multiple players are investing either through pure online retailing or by click and mortar retailing, which also has a physical presence and a face-to face experience with their customers. While significant research has been done on the operational, marketing, branding and buying behavior dimensions of both retailing processes, there have been very limited studies on their comparative environmental impacts. This thesis attempts to estimate and compare the carbon footprint of the shopping process through ten consumer buying behaviors representing different combinations of the search, purchase and return phases of the shopping process for three representative products (electronics, clothing and toys). Using Monte Carlo Simulation, multiple scenarios of supply chain configurations, consumer transportation choices, urban density, packaging and item bundling are evaluated. Results show that online shopping is the most environmentally friendly option in a wide range of scenarios. However, as more consumers leverage traditional brick-and-mortar alternatives to their online buying behaviors, some of the environmental savings quickly erode.

Author: Dimitri Weideli
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland
Research carried out at MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics, Cambridge MA, USA

Advisors: Dr. Edgar E. Blanco (MIT), Professor Naoufel Cheikhrouhou (EPFL), Dr. Anthony Craig (MIT)

This thesis project won BG's 2013 "System and Sustainable Development" Prize. Read the full article on Dimitri's win here.