Why Cyber Monday is greener than Black Friday

It’s officially Cyber Monday, the day many of us start holiday shopping online, and web retailers begin enticing shoppers to spend via clicks with killer deals. In addition to Cyber Monday being a lot more convenient than Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving when shoppers flock to brick and mortar stores to buy goods — it turns out shopping online can be greener than shopping in stores.

A couple of years ago, we commissioned a study for our subscription service, GigaOM Pro, on the greenhouses gas emissions of online holiday shopping versus in-store holiday shopping, and the trends still ring true. The study found in-store purchases represented an increase of more than 15 times the green house gases of online purchases. Overall, the impact of Black Friday in 2009 was about 50 times that of Cyber Monday in 2009.

It’s not so surprising when you think about the contrast. In-store shopping most of the time involves the shopper driving to the store, so they’re burning fuel, which emits CO2. And then there are the carbon emissions associated with the electricity and power for the retail outlet itself, as well as energy used for shipping the goods to the store (see graph of the breakdown below).

In 2011, Cyber Monday is supposed to be even bigger than in previous years and bigger than Black Friday. According to the Los Angeles Times, Cyber Monday in 2011 could hit sales of $1.2 billion up from $1 billion last year, with 122 million Americans shopping via Cyber Monday deals. In contrast, Black Friday hit sales of $816 million in 2011 according to comScore. (s scor) People are more comfortable shopping online than ever before this year, and are turning to a more energy-efficient way of shopping: online.

With 7 billion people now on the planet, and 9 billion by 2050, it’s just not sustainable to have masses of people physically driving to stores and buying stuffing all at the same time. There’s a limited amount of space, fuel, and energy resources. Limited space is also why Black Friday has been marred in the past by things like stampedes and fighting.

And take the trend of dematerialization — or digital goods replacing physical ones — a step further and the Internet can help other sectors beyond shopping become more efficient, too. E-readers are replacing the production of physical books, and digital music downloads and movies are replacing the production and shipping of CDs and DVDs. Both of these digital dematerialization trends have been studied and suggest that they are reducing carbon emissions from the traditional businesses.

However, at the end of the day, buying less stuff is going to be better for the planet in general, so it would be interesting to look at if Cyber Monday increases the buying of stuff overall, and do people buy more stuff online for the holidays just because it’s easier? If anyone is doing research in this area, hit me up. Is there a point where the Internet becomes such an efficient medium that it produces more consumption, not less?

Image from Gamestop Amazon.