Digitally Green

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We live in a digital age. There are pros and cons to the nature of our modern-day world; one of the pros is creating a big impact, but it needs your help.

Any information we require is at our fingertips thanks to search engines such as Google and Yahoo and websites such as Wikipedia. We can purchase anything we desire online and it will be shipped to us in a matter of days. You don’t have to physically go to the grocery store any more, or leave your house for dinner.

What some consider laziness, others call convenience, and not everyone participates in the full-fledged online shopping world. Whether you choose to shop online or in store, one simple choice can cause multiple reductions in your carbon footprint.

According to Money Crashers, the term “carbon footprint” is a variant of “ecological footprint.” This is a general measure, of how much of the earth’s resources we use in our daily lives. “A carbon footprint is a specific type of ecological footprint, one that focuses on greenhouse gases.” Greenhouse gas emissions are closely tied to energy use. By calculating the carbon footprint for a group of people, we have an idea how much energy the group uses, which then can be compared to the footprint of similar groups. This is how we begin the plan to cut energy use.

There’s a growing movement in retail businesses to make shopping in store more like shopping online. When you shop online, you receive a multitude of emails: confirmation, receipt, tracking number, surveys and discounts for the next time you shop. When you shop in a store, you may be asked if you would like to receive an email receipt. The clear advantage to this is saving a piece of paper you might throw away in the car or months later when you find it in your wallet.
The email receipt trend has picked up rapidly. Companies realized they could send their customers emails with receipts, promotions and coupons, just as they were doing with online shopping. Your “promotions” category on Gmail and Outlook may become filled to the brim with what used to be considered junk or spam mail.

Pitney Bowes Inc., a global business that helps clients negotiate commerce and shipping, notes that paper and electronic communications are intertwined. The process of substituting electronic communication for paper is more of a redistribution than total elimination. Pitney Bowes states there are too many factors involved to say that electronic communication always has less of an environmental impact than physical mail.

The world of shopping communication is changing as well. Department stores such as JC Penney, Sears and Macys used to produce catalogs large enough to bench press, annually, semi-annually and quarterly. What happened to all of these catalogs once people were done ordering from them? Companies still create catalogs, brochures and coupon books that flood your mailbox, but you can take steps to decrease the amount you receive. For instance, you can switch to online catalogs to reduce the waste of paper.

Banks, loan companies, 401K and insurance accounts, hospitals, accounting firms, publications and many other businesses are making the online switch, too. You can opt for going paperless in almost any transaction situation.
Another green alternative is to buy digital tickets. When you attend a concert, show, event, movie or fly on an airplane, you have the opportunity to store your ticket on your smartphone so there’s no need for a physical copy.

Now you have a multitude of apps and you opt for digital receipts and coupons. Is it really making a difference? Check for yourself by visiting the Carbon Fund website, which is dedicated to educating people on reducing their carbon footprint. You can access an individual or business calculator, a list of statistics regarding different carbon footprint categories and ways you can make a difference.

Another resource to calculate your footprint and learn more is the Global Footprint Network. This website is dedicated to “advancing the science of sustainability.” Along with the free footprint calculator, they provide publications, articles, case studies and educational resources.

Opting for digital receipts, promotions and coupons may seem like insignificant actions to creating a greener world. But your carbon footprint is a combination of all the things you do. Small changes can make a big difference over time. ■

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