The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has launched a year-long inquiry into the social and environmental impact of e-commerce.

Patricia Hewitt, e-commerce minister at the DTI, launched the inquiry yesterday at a conference on environmental modernization.

The inquiry, called Digital Futures, will look at the impact e-commerce will have over the next ten years on energy use, the environment, planning, transport and social exclusion. It is being backed by three government agencies, eight think tanks and ten companies - including BP Amoco, BT, and Sun Microsystems.

Speaking at the launch, Hewitt said: "E-commerce has the potential to reduce the resource intensity of many products and services, but it is important that we assess the benefits and problems in a systematic and balanced way."