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How Green Is Wal-Mart’s Drive-Through Window?

Wal-Mart shoppers on the outskirts of Chicago can now order online and pick up their merchandise at a drive-through without even getting out of the car.

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Leave it to Wal-Mart, king of the big box retailers, to test out a fast food-like drive-through window for Internet orders. That’s right–instead of waiting for online orders to arrive at home, Wal-Mart shoppers on the outskirts of Chicago can now order online and pick up their merchandise at a drive-through without even getting out of the car. The drive-through window was created for convenience, shoppers can pick up their orders more quickly than if they had to go inside the store. But given Wal-Mart’s commitment to sustainability we wondered: just how bad for the planet is a drive-through window?

In terms of carbon emissions, regular online ordering is better than picking up items from the store. A report from Carnegie Mellon, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Stanford University recently showed that buying a CD online and having it shipped to your door uses fewer emissions than getting it from the local Best Buy. Presumably, that also holds true if you purchase the CD online, have it shipped to Wal-Mart, and then take a trip to the Wal-Mart drive-through to pick it up.

In-store pickups aren’t new, however–the innovation here is the drive-through line. And on that front, Wal-Mart might just be on to something. Instead of wasting gas by hunting for a parking spot, shutting off the car, and turning it back on to leave, shoppers can zip through the drive-through, presumably only idling for a minute or two. That might not sound like big carbon savings, but when millions of Wal-Mart shoppers are taken into account it adds up quickly.

Of course, Wal-Mart isn’t testing the drive-through system for the sake of the planet. It’s all part of a plan to one-up Amazon’s stronghold on online ordering. For real progress on the green front, take a look at our coverage of Wal-Mart’s sustainability index.

[Via Wall Street Journal]

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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