How can your e-commerce business lessen its environmental impact?
Sustainability is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Sustainable development can and has been defined in various ways through the years, but the above definition from Our Common Future, also known as the Brundtland Report, is the most frequently quoted despite being over thirty years old. Making sure all people today as well as the future generations have the means to survive and thrive matters now more than ever.
Thankfully, in recent years there has been a change of mentality. Particularly in e-commerce, consumers began to realize that speedy deliveries and single-use plastic packaging are things that we cannot sustain forever; these conveniences have a significant environmental impact. For e-commerce brands, focusing on reducing their impact on the environment can lead to financial benefits and strengthen their brand loyalty as an increasing number of consumers come to value these efforts.
Beliefs versus convenience
Indeed, sustainability and environmental impact are growing concerns for consumers nowadays and influence heavily which brands they will choose to buy from. People are willing to pay 10-15% more for products or services from companies that are aligned with their values and use sustainable practices. On the other hand, the biggest motivation behind why people are purchasing online is the convenience, and next-day delivery e-commerce is offering.
Although the majority of people nowadays believe that the way we treat the planet now will have a significant impact on future generations, 48% of consumers admit that although they know they should care more about the environment, convenience is more important. There is a difference between what people believe and how they behave: people vow on doing everything in their hands to reduce their carbon footprint but only if it does not collide with things that bring them pleasure. Similarly, although they see their consumer behavior as eco-friendly, they are willing to make some hard trade-offs between that and lower prices, convenience, fast deliveries, favorite products, and more.
On the other hand, e-commerce brands are striving to deliver the most personalized, effortless customer experience possible, but that may be damaging the environment they vowed to protect. So how can e-commerce brands drive sustainability without jeopardizing the convenience they promised to their customers or their viability and profitability as companies and at the same time help them close the gap between their customers’ beliefs and actions?
The transition towards a sustainable model
E-commerce has a rather sizeable carbon and waste footprint: same- or next-day delivery with a large number of extra delivery vans that translates into, products wrapped in plastic or non-recyclable materials, many times wrapped individually rather than in bundles, excess packaging in oversized boxes, and more. Several big brands have pledged to mitigate their environmental impact, but that is easier said than done since these efforts can sometimes contradict the company’s business model. Amazon, for example, announced their plan to become carbon neutral by 2040. Although a very welcomed initiative, it goes against the company’s current business model that relies heavily on extremely-fast shipping standards and supports extensive consumerism.
Build your brand’s ethos
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and direct-to-consumer brands (D2C) can easier make sustainability a core part of their business model and integrate sustainable solutions into their products’ design, sourcing, manufacturing, marketing, selling, shipping, and returning processes and even make their offices and warehouses more energy efficient. Making sustainability an integral part of your brand’s identity and business model will not only be beneficial for the environment and society in general, but it will also help you differentiate from the big brands and retailers.
Make sure you communicate clearly your brand ethos and values to your customers; a brand ethos that reflects your genuine stance on sustainability. Customers can see through words-only efforts right away, so ensure that your brand has undertaken the necessary practices that will make a measurable difference and support your promises. Reducing packaging and energy waste are two of them. Offering sustainability-focused products like eco-friendly alternatives of existing ones is another very appealing method, but that obviously depends on the type of your business.
Another effective way is to purchase carbon offsets. Carbon offsets are measures designed to balance the amount of carbon dioxide your company produces by investing an equal amount of money into projects related to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. You can include carbon offsets into your annual budget or ask your customers for a contribution by having an optional carbon offset charge on your e-commerce site’s checkout page. Companies like Cloverly can automate carbon offsets offering at checkout and help your brand go greener. Their API calculates the impact of common carbon-intensive activities like e-commerce deliveries in real-time and uses verified, quality carbon offset projects to neutralize them.
Reuse is better than recycle
Reducing e-commerce packaging waste is an essential step every company focused on sustainability has to take. Choosing sustainable packaging methods and recyclable or compostable packaging materials as well as reducing the amount of packaging by selecting the correct box size for your shipments, can considerably decrease the amount of waste your company and your customers produce. But even if your e-commerce brand offers recyclable packaging, that does not guarantee that your customers will necessarily recycle it. Therefore, we recommend you take the extra step and strive to educate your customers on how to dispose of it properly.
Since ‘reuse’ is far better than ‘use and recycle’, as an alternative to traditional packaging, your e-commerce brand should consider using companies like RePack. Describing itself as a ‘reuse-as-a-service’ company, RePack provides e-commerce brands and their customers with returnable and reusable packaging supporting that way a circular economy. Their returnable packages are made of durable and recycled materials and come in three sizes. The company incentivizes customers to return their empty RePack bag with a reward system that supports voucher use, charity donations, or loyalty programs. RePack fee covers the bag and a global, empty packaging return; that way, returning an empty RePack package is free of charge, anywhere in the world. After the customer returns the empty package, the company checks it, cleans it, and then redistributes it.
Choose sustainable shipping methods
As a result of the enormous increase in online shopping, last-mile shipping, the process of transporting a package from the fulfillment center to the delivery address, has a vast environmental impact. Nevertheless, several international carriers offer eco-friendly solutions like FedEx’s paperless invoicing and electric or alternative fuel delivery vehicles, and UPS’ Eco Responsible Packaging Program. Similarly, Royal Mail operates more than 300 electric vehicles, Hermes also uses an extensive fleet of electric vehicles, and DPD claims it will spend €200 million by 2025 to shift its delivery fleets in 225 European cities – including 25 in the UK – to low or zero carbon emission vehicles. Finally, Sendle is a registered B Corp and Australia's first 100% carbon neutral delivery service partnering with the South Pole. The pace of change is slow, but it is most certainly welcomed.
Online shopping is fast, convenient, and for the most part, uncomplicated. Unfortunately, most of its advantages come often at the expense of the environment; high volumes of energy, and packaging waste as well as a carbon footprint that cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, things will not change overnight. Nevertheless, implementing a sustainability strategy should be of the highest priority for every e-commerce brand.
Going green is not merely good for the environment; it is also great for business. When it comes to consumers, although quite reluctant to sacrifice their convenience usually, a brand’s commitment to environmental issues is a significant concern. Especially younger shoppers are starting to take a stand with their consumer decisions. As consumers become more eco-conscious, brands that implement sustainability practices and manage to communicate these practices to their customers efficiently will witness significant growth and strengthen their brand loyalty.
No matter what sustainability practices you choose to implement to protect the environment and meet consumer expectations, using a shipping management platform like Shiptheory, gives you access to the best sustainable shipping solutions for your e-commerce business. That way, Shiptheory can save your company money and time, while at the same time help you reduce your carbon footprint.