Do serious enviros shop online or in person?

From Grist's popular online advice column with Umbra Fisk:

Hi Umbra,

A friend and I were recently discussing a conundrum about purchasing products from companies that have physical retail outlets and online purchasing, like The Body Shop. Which is the most ecologically sound option? Local store: most likely drive there, the products had to be shipped there, your purchase probably generates a need to ship more products there ... but you are supporting a local business that pays taxes, etc. Buy online, maybe your items are coming from the same place that ships to stores, so you are essentially cutting out the middle person, but it does take resources to get the product to your house. See what I'm getting at? Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Catherine
Pacific Grove, Calif.

Umbra Fisk responds:

Please endure my obligatory gentle reminders to reduce consumption of unnecessary objects and bundle your errands when you do drive. Choosing the better way to shop is not better than not shopping.

That said, the minds-that-be have not decided quite yet whether online shopping is better than in-person shopping. To the layperson, online seems to have a bit of an intuitive advantage -- but intuition means little, as we have learned via the related paper vs. plastic situation.

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