Comparative Energy, Environmental, and Economic Analysis of Traditional and E-commerce DVD Rental Networks

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This study is a comparative life-cycle assessment (LCA) of two competing digital video disc (DVD) rental networks: the e-commerce option, where the customer orders the movies online, and the traditional business option, where the customer goes to the rental store to rent a movie. The analytical framework proposed is for a customer living in the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan in the United States. The primary energy and environmental performance for both networks are presented using a multicriterion LCA. The package selected by the traditional network is responsible for 67% of the difference in total energy consumption of the two alternatives. Results show that the e-commerce alternative consumed 33% less energy and emitted 40% less CO2 than the traditional option. A set of sensitivity analyses test the influence of distance traveled, transportation mode, and reuse of DVD and DVD packaging on the final results. The mode of transportation used by the customer in the traditional business model also affects global emissions and energy consumption. The customer walking to the store is by far the best option in the traditional network; however, the e-commerce option performed comparatively better despite all transportation modes tested. A novel economic indicator, ESAL, is used to compare different transportation modes based on the level of stress exerted on the pavement. The two networks are compared on the basis of cost accounting; consistent with its energy and environmental advantages, the e-commerce network also exerts lesser economic impact, by $1.17, for the functional unit tested.

greenhouse gas
industrial ecology
life-cycle assessment
sustainable consumption
Publication Type: 
Journal Article
Journal of Industrial Ecology
Date Published: 
July 2007
Persistent URL: 
doi: 10.1162/jiec.2007.1240
Full Citation: 
Sivaraman, D., S. Pacca, K. Mueller, and J. Lin. (2007) "Comparative Energy, Environmental, and Economic Analysis of Traditional and E-commerce DVD Rental Networks." Journal of Industrial Ecology, 11(3): 77–91.
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