The NY Times just ran a story on the increase in online sales for retail chains such as JC Penny and Gap. Though the slow economy is showing reduced in-store sales from last year, online sales are up as much as 21% over the same period. Much of the increase has been attributed to rising gas prices that make a trip to the mall much more expensive than a few years ago. In our household, netflix has been a great service to help us receive movies we are interested in watching without having to drive a few miles to the video rental store. And as our communication systems continue to improve, we can usher in a wave of fuel efficiency that makes some regular commutes obsolete in the future.
Online purchases don’t mean no fuel is consumed, but the mailman or UPS delivering goods in bulk is a lot like our goods choosing to take the train or bus rather than the single occupancy vehicle. The fuel demand reduction can be huge.
As I’ve discussed in previous blogs, this commuting revolution is taking place in education and the daily work commute as well. It will still be important to have face-to-face employee meetings from time to time but if we set up clear accountability mechanisms for task completion, the five-day work week can morph into a two to four day office meeting schedule complemented by significant work completion at home or satellite offices closer to people’s residences. This can lower business costs for office space and the utilities that go with it. Of course many blue collar and service jobs such as coal miners, waitresses and painters can’t telecommute. But a large chunk of us can utilize the expanding communication technologies available to help lower fuel demand nationwide and assist in controlling the price of oil and other energy commodities. A few clicks to get errands done can help us have more time to be with family and friends close to home, and move us toward our dream of living a sustainable lifestyle.