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Want to be green? Have your groceries delivered

Having your groceries delivered might seem like a self-indulgent luxury.

But researchers at the University of Washington have found that, most of the time, you can feel good about doing something for the environment when you order your groceries online and have them delivered instead of making a trip to the store.

“We like to call it 'the bus for groceries,'” said Anne Goodchild, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW.

She and a graduate student have published a paper that found that grocery delivery service, like mass transit, reduces the number of vehicle miles used and the tons of carbon dioxide emissions generated per person. The research examined Seattle as a case study. 

“You know, it’s a shared vehicle. So it’s not an individual with their own vehicle going to the store and back; it’s a vehicle that’s shared by many deliveries. And so, in that way, it can be a lot more efficient,” Goodchild said.  

Even though a delivery truck is less fuel-efficient than most people’s cars, Goodchild says the mileage saved can reduce carbon emissions by anywhere from 40 to 80 percent. The exact number depends on factors like how full the trucks are, and which routes they have to take.

When the companies have more flexibility in their delivery schedules, they can be the most efficient; the least environmentally-friendly services will be those offering drop-off windows that are specified down to the half-hour.

Goodchild says there’s potential for benefits even in rural areas with less population density.

The study did not take into consideration the fact that some people combine shopping trips with their commutes. Those combined trips will be the subject of future research.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to