back to all projects

Sustainability Implications of the Rural-Urban Digital Economy Divide


The rural-urban divide refers to a range of disparities associated with access to a variety of services, livelihood opportunities, and income within urban and rural communities. In addition to creating an array of social equity issues, the rural-urban divide influences the environmental impacts of goods and services through both direct factors (i.e. vehicle-miles traveled) and indirect factors (i.e. availability and access to specific services, behaviors related to consumption and waste generation).

This research will use a life cycle assessment (LCA) approach to compare the energy and environmental impacts of online grocery delivery in rural and urban environments to determine the factors that are most influential to environmental impact. The research will determine a suite of best practices and potential interventions to reduce the environmental impacts of this rapidly emerging industry and provide insights into how these services can be best adapted to rural communities. This research will help determine the extent to which the environmental impacts of e-commerce adoption are within the industry’s control (i.e. mechanism of distribution, delivery vehicle type), the extent to which environmental impacts rely on consumer adoption patterns (i.e. last-mile density, changes to consumer shopping, consumption, and waste), and the differences observed in rural and urban contexts. Although we focus on food e-commerce specifically, much of the research should be applicable to rural-urban divide issues associated with the broader e-commerce industry.

Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
Research Areas
Mobility Systems