Ever since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, people’s attention has been drawn to how a product can simplify their lives. Electricity, for instance, is a wonder that extends our active hours well into the night, while cars elegantly transport us between destinations. The online purchases we make arrive at our doorstep in just days or even hours, thoughtfully enveloped in protective layers of plastic and styrofoam.
In recent times, a shift has unfolded, marked by growing concern for our planet’s future and concerted efforts to combat the far-reaching effects of global warming.
Consumers have come to a realization: the very efficiencies that have seamlessly integrated into our contemporary culture — from rapid delivery speeds to disposable plastic packaging — are unsustainable within the confines of our planet’s finite resources.
Let’s discuss sustainability in e-commerce and rising eco-friendly brands.
At its core, sustainability involves the capacity to sustain or uphold a process consistently over time. In the realms of business and policy, the concept of sustainability revolves around safeguarding against the depletion of natural or physical resources, ensuring their enduring availability for the long haul.
Sustainable eCommerce entails engaging in online retail while responsibly managing natural resources and striving to meet the needs of the present generation without jeopardizing those of the future. This encompasses environmentally conscious manufacturing, eco-friendly shipping practices, and responsible retail management, all while encouraging sustainable consumption from the buyer’s end.
One might easily assume that the ascent of online eCommerce stores would naturally lessen the environmental burden, given the shift of numerous operations to the digital realm. However, this presumption fails to acknowledge the sheer magnitude that eCommerce has attained and the implications that follow.
To provide some perspective, by the year 2025, retail eCommerce sales are forecasted to surpass a staggering $1.6 trillion – more than twice the figure recorded in 2020. Moreover, over 40% of U.S. consumers receive at least one Amazon package every week.
Each sale of a physical product equates to a shipping container and its associated materials. As eCommerce sales persist in their upward trajectory, the corresponding impact on the environment will inevitably expand as well.
Sustainability involves engaging in actions that preserve natural resources and maintain long-term ecological equilibrium on a global scale. In another light, sustainability entails striking a balance between fulfilling current needs without compromising the prospects of meeting future generations’ needs.
As an increasing consensus among scientists underscores the detrimental impacts of consumerism and the potential perils of climate change, companies must heed their call and adapt their business practices accordingly.
And if that’s not convincing enough, consumer preferences are progressively tilting towards sustainability and environmental awareness. According to Statista, over half of consumers in the US and UK desire online brands to design products with reduced packaging, and about a third of US consumers are willing to pay an extra fee for eco-friendly delivery.
But here’s the crux: a Nielson report highlights that a substantial 73% of shoppers would definitely or probably alter their consumption habits to minimize their environmental footprint. For online retailers and eCommerce companies contemplating a shift, consider the following array of benefits:
The environmental aspect frequently garners the highest attention, with companies dedicating their efforts to shrinking their carbon footprints, curbing packaging waste, and mitigating their overall environmental influence.
When you track and concentrate on reducing environmental impact, it holds a dual advantage: not only does it contribute positively to the planet, but it also yields favorable financial outcomes. As more consumers recognize and value the strides being taken in this direction, the impact becomes even more pronounced.
To ensure a business’s financial health, it must prioritize its viability and profitability as a company.
However, in the pursuit of sustainability, it’s crucial to avoid prioritizing profit to the detriment of the other two pillars. Under this pillar, the focal points include assessing whether the interests of the business stakeholders are aligned with the company’s community, customers, and values.
Although this article will mainly center on the environmental and economic dimensions, the social aspect holds an integral place within sustainability. This encompasses conducting operations in a manner that positively impacts both employees and the local community, aligning with the social license.
Furthermore, it involves meticulous oversight of your complete supply chain, ensuring that the individuals contributing to the creation of your environmentally conscious products are treated fairly and receive proper compensation.
Sustainability is emerging as a significant priority for numerous businesses. Often, this stems from a genuine commitment by business stakeholders to embrace more sustainable and ethical practices.
Yet, in a delightful convergence of the Environmental and Economic Pillars, sustainability is also aligning with sound financial sense due to the resounding demand from customers.
Here are some compelling statistics to ponder:
- According to a Nielsen survey, a substantial 73% of global consumers express their willingness to actively change their consumption patterns to reduce environmental impact.
- Another survey spanning North America, Europe, and Asia, involving 6,000 consumers, highlighted that 72% of respondents are actively opting for more environmentally friendly products.
- Research from NYU’s Stern School of Business discovered that half of the growth in consumer packaged goods between 2013 and 2018 stemmed from products marketed as sustainable.
- Among respondents, 75% of Millennials expressed a greater inclination than Baby Boomers to adopt changes that promote sustainability.
Consumers truly value these endeavors, demonstrating their preference for sustainable products and companies through their spending choices. As a business, if you have the opportunity to make decisions that simultaneously yield positive economic and environmental impacts, the rationale for making those changes becomes compelling.
Whether you begin with small steps or fully commit, there are actions you can initiate to kickstart the process of making your business more sustainable. Here are some possibilities:
Your brand ethos communicates to your customers who you are as a brand and what principles you hold dear. A sustainable brand isn’t just a label; it signifies a brand that has embraced a resolute commitment to sustainability and has actively engaged in environmental or social initiatives to uphold that commitment.
In the realm of sustainable eCommerce, your brand ethos should permeate throughout your website and communication channels. This consistency can be effectively maintained through a robust declaration on your website, informative blog posts, engaging social media content, and every piece of content and text you present.
The demand for swift shipping choices in eCommerce has reached unprecedented heights. In 2021 alone, a staggering 21.5 billion parcels were dispatched in the U.S., reflecting the substantial environmental repercussions of the surge in online shopping.
A considerable portion of this carbon footprint emanates from the last leg of the shipping process – when packages transition from fulfillment centers to residential addresses, exacerbating vehicular pollution in local neighborhoods.
Numerous strategies exist to curtail shipping’s impact. These range from employing recyclable packaging and minimizing excess material to opting for thermal printers for label printing to conserve ink. Exploring eco-friendly initiatives offered by major carriers such as FedEx, UPS, and USPS can unveil paperless invoicing and other environmentally conscious alternatives.
Enhancing the sustainability of your eco-friendly shipping practices also involves a reduction in returned merchandise, given that the dual shipping process doubles the environmental impact. Ensuring transparent product descriptions and sizing information assists customers in making informed choices and mitigates the need for returns.
If you’ve ever ordered from Amazon and received a colossal box for a simple iPhone case, you’re familiar with the packaging waste issue that plagues numerous eCommerce brands. Insight from First Insight reveals that nearly half of people believe Amazon shipments involve excessive packaging.
Taking tangible steps to diminish eCommerce packaging waste can wield substantial influence over your business’s environmental footprint. This could encompass procuring boxes in a variety of sizes to better accommodate smaller items. Oversized packages not only squander space but also necessitate additional packing materials to safeguard the enclosed items.
Given that packaging directed to customers already has a detrimental impact on sustainability, it’s unsurprising that returns involving products going back the opposite way share a similar environmental footprint. This issue is also on an upward trajectory.
In 2021, retail returns surged to 16.6%, marking a substantial rise from 10.6% in 2020. Returns cast a shadow on companies’ financial outcomes and can give rise to escalated packaging expenses, waste generation, and emissions from transportation.
For organizations, the objective should revolve around minimizing returns to the greatest extent possible. The most effective means to achieve this entails ensuring that all accompanying product information is accurate, current, and comprehensive enough to address any potential customer queries. When customers possess a precise understanding of their purchases, the likelihood of returns should inherently diminish.
Beyond appropriately matching box sizes and packaging to the shipped items, businesses can curtail waste by opting for sustainable and eco-friendly packaging materials.
Here are some noteworthy points to consider:
- An impressive 73% of Americans have access to curbside recycling, while a whopping 94% can access some form of recycling.
- Recycling cardboard consumes only 75% of the energy needed to craft new cardboard.
- Recycling a ton of cardboard conserves a substantial nine cubic yards of landfill space.
By employing recyclable cardboard boxes and mailers, and by enhancing recycling accessibility for both customers and businesses, the potential to drastically diminish waste output becomes quite significant.
Sustainability extends beyond your shipping methods and product composition to encompass broader business operations, encompassing the management of your offices and warehouses. Implementing straightforward adjustments such as powering down equipment during idle periods, adopting renewable energy sources, and moderating office temperatures can yield substantial reductions in energy expenses.
The initial stride toward curbing energy wastage within your business infrastructure involves conducting an energy audit to pinpoint areas where reductions can be implemented. Subsequently, you can initiate changes based on the approach that combines ease of implementation with the greatest overall impact.
Depending on your current product lineup, an effective approach to integrating sustainability into your business is by introducing products that prioritize sustainability, particularly given the expanding customer base that actively seeks such offerings. This could entail presenting more environmentally friendly alternatives to your existing products or introducing solutions that empower individuals to lead more sustainable lives.
Incorporating products into your range that facilitate sustainable living opens the doors to a substantial customer segment eagerly seeking such items.
A practical approach to counterbalancing the environmental repercussions linked to your product’s creation and purchase involves investing in carbon offsets.
In essence, carbon offsets involve taking actions that offset the carbon dioxide generated by channeling an equivalent investment into projects aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Your business can seamlessly integrate offset investments into your budget. Alternatively, you can also extend the opportunity to your customers, allowing online shoppers to opt for an additional offset charge. It’s vital to select a trustworthy carbon offset project through which the raised funds can be effectively utilized.
Sustainability and the fate of our planet concern each one of us as global citizens. Younger consumers, especially those poised to inherit our Earth’s future, are beginning to voice their choices through their spending.
By actively working towards establishing a more sustainable product, refining the supply chain, or enhancing shipping practices, you might achieve a twofold victory: contributing to a more sustainable future while also setting your brand apart amidst a sea of competitors.