What is an Example of New Technology Having a Negative Impact on Sustainability?

Technology has undoubtedly revolutionized the way we live, work, and interact with the world around us. From smartphones to electric vehicles, new technologies have brought about numerous benefits and advancements. However, it is important to recognize that not all technological innovations are inherently sustainable. In fact, some new technologies can have a negative impact on sustainability, contributing to environmental degradation, resource depletion, and social inequality. In this article, we will explore one such example of new technology having a negative impact on sustainability: the rise of e-commerce and its implications for the environment.

The Rise of E-commerce

In recent years, e-commerce has experienced exponential growth, driven by the convenience and accessibility it offers to consumers. Online shopping has become increasingly popular, with people now able to purchase a wide range of products from the comfort of their own homes. While e-commerce has undoubtedly transformed the retail industry, it has also brought about a host of sustainability challenges.

Increased Packaging Waste

One of the major drawbacks of e-commerce is the significant increase in packaging waste. When products are purchased online, they need to be packaged and shipped to the customer’s doorstep. This often involves excessive use of cardboard boxes, bubble wrap, and plastic packaging materials. According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, e-commerce packaging accounts for approximately 165 million tons of plastic waste each year.

Furthermore, the packaging used in e-commerce is often oversized and inefficient, leading to wasted space and increased transportation emissions. Many products are shipped in boxes that are much larger than necessary, resulting in more trucks on the road and higher carbon emissions. This inefficiency is exacerbated by the “free shipping” model adopted by many e-commerce companies, which encourages consumers to make multiple small purchases rather than consolidating them into a single shipment.

Increased Carbon Footprint

The rise of e-commerce has also led to a significant increase in carbon emissions. The transportation of goods from warehouses to customers’ homes requires a vast network of delivery vehicles, which contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. According to a study by MIT, the carbon footprint of e-commerce can be up to 30% higher than traditional retail due to the additional transportation and packaging involved.

Moreover, the last-mile delivery, which refers to the final leg of the delivery process from the distribution center to the customer’s doorstep, is often the most carbon-intensive part of the supply chain. Delivery trucks and vans frequently make multiple stops in a single neighborhood, resulting in inefficient routes and increased emissions. Additionally, the demand for faster delivery times has led to the proliferation of express delivery services, which further exacerbate the carbon footprint of e-commerce.

Case Study: Amazon

One of the most prominent examples of the negative impact of e-commerce on sustainability is the case of Amazon. As the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon has played a significant role in shaping the e-commerce industry. While the company has made efforts to improve its sustainability practices, it still faces numerous challenges.

Excessive Packaging

Amazon has been criticized for its excessive packaging practices, with many customers receiving small items in large boxes filled with air pillows or other packaging materials. This not only leads to unnecessary waste but also increases the carbon footprint of each shipment. In response to these concerns, Amazon has introduced initiatives such as “Frustration-Free Packaging” and “Ship in Own Container” to reduce packaging waste. However, these efforts are still a work in progress and have not been fully implemented across all products.

Delivery Optimization

Another sustainability challenge faced by Amazon is the optimization of its delivery network. The company operates a vast fleet of delivery vehicles, which contribute to air pollution and congestion. To address this issue, Amazon has been exploring alternative delivery methods, such as electric vehicles and drones. While these initiatives have the potential to reduce carbon emissions, they are still in the early stages of implementation and face various logistical and regulatory challenges.

The Way Forward

While the negative impact of e-commerce on sustainability is evident, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate these effects and promote a more sustainable future.

1. Sustainable Packaging

E-commerce companies should prioritize sustainable packaging solutions, such as using recyclable materials and right-sizing packaging to minimize waste. Additionally, innovative packaging designs, such as reusable or biodegradable materials, can help reduce the environmental impact of e-commerce.

2. Consolidated Shipments

Encouraging consumers to consolidate their purchases into a single shipment can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of e-commerce. Offering incentives, such as discounts or loyalty points, for consolidated shipments can help promote this behavior among consumers.

3. Efficient Last-Mile Delivery

Improving the efficiency of last-mile delivery is crucial for reducing the carbon emissions associated with e-commerce. This can be achieved through route optimization, the use of electric vehicles, and the consolidation of deliveries to reduce the number of vehicles on the road.


While e-commerce has undoubtedly brought about numerous benefits and advancements, it is important to recognize its negative impact on sustainability. The rise of e-commerce has led to increased packaging waste, higher carbon emissions, and other sustainability challenges. However, by implementing sustainable packaging practices, promoting consolidated shipments, and improving last-mile delivery efficiency, we can work towards a more sustainable future for e-commerce. It is crucial for both businesses and consumers to prioritize sustainability and make conscious choices that minimize the environmental impact of new technologies.


1. Is e-commerce inherently unsustainable?

No, e-commerce itself is not inherently unsustainable. It is the way e-commerce is currently practiced, with excessive packaging, inefficient delivery methods, and a lack of emphasis on sustainability, that contributes to its negative impact on sustainability.

2. Are there any other examples of new technologies having a negative impact on sustainability?

Yes, there are several other examples of new technologies having a negative impact on sustainability. One such example is the rapid growth of data centers, which consume vast amounts of energy and contribute to carbon emissions. Another example is the proliferation of disposable electronic devices, which contribute to electronic waste and resource depletion.

3. How can consumers contribute to a more sustainable e-commerce industry?

Consumers can contribute to a more sustainable e-commerce industry by making conscious choices. This includes consolidating their purchases into a single shipment, opting for sustainable packaging options, and supporting companies that prioritize sustainability in their operations.

4. What role do governments play in promoting sustainability in e-commerce?

Governments play a crucial role in promoting sustainability in e-commerce through regulations and incentives. They can implement policies that encourage sustainable packaging practices, promote the use of electric vehicles in last-mile delivery, and provide incentives for companies to reduce their carbon emissions.</p