April 22, 2022
There’s arguably never been a better time to grow an online business. However, as the popularity of eCommerce increases, so do some of the negative environmental impacts that come with this, including excess waste, carbon emissions, and pollution from harmful manufacturing processes. eCommerce businesses are under increasing pressure to be more sustainable, especially as many consumers now align themselves with brands that are compatible with their values and priorities.
Although building a sustainable, eco-friendly online brand has an obvious positive effect on the planet, it also makes good business sense, given that consumers expect brands to be environmentally responsible. Those that are can potentially increase customer loyalty, enhance brand perception, and – if done right – boost sales. A recent survey from McKinsey & Co. found that 66% of respondents considered sustainability when making a purchase,1 indicating that brands can’t afford to ignore their environmental responsibilities. Here are five ways to become a more eco-friendly eCommerce business.
In the UK alone, it is estimated that five million tonnes of plastic are used every year, nearly half of which is packaging.2 Although some of this is recycled, much of it still ends up in landfill once it has served its single-use purpose, contributing significantly to excess waste, pollution, and climate change. As such, it’s important to reduce single-use plastic across your supply chain or, better yet, eliminate it entirely.
You could start by switching to more sustainable packaging that is made from recycled materials or those that are easily recyclable or compostable. Cardboard packaging, for instance, has long been the gold standard of sustainable packaging, but some businesses have gone a step further by using “plantable” packaging that is embedded with seeds, encouraging consumers to grow plants from it, rather than throw it in the trash.
While the nature of some products like food, drink, and cosmetics require individual packaging for health, safety, or sanitary reasons, it’s worthwhile making the switch to biodegradable packaging, or that made from recycled materials.
It’s become common practice for eCommerce brands to offer customers near-immediate shipping speeds, but this takes a toll on the environment. Same or next-day delivery of packages that arrive by lorry and plane ultimately produces high levels of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change. By offering your customers the option to choose a slower form of shipping, you can consolidate as many shipments as possible onto a single vehicle, helping to reduce the carbon intensity of each delivery.
As part of this move, it’s important to work with eco-conscious carriers that are as committed to protecting the environment as you are. Several worldwide couriers now use low or ultra-low emission vehicles to make their deliveries, whilst investing in initiatives to improve the efficiency of their operations and offset the carbon emissions they do produce. Partnering with carriers such as these could go a long way to supporting carbon-neutral shipping.
On the subject of carbon offsetting, you can also provide customers the option to do just that at checkout. There are numerous tools available that can help you calculate the precise carbon footprint of each individual order, which you can either opt to offset on behalf of your customers, or enable them to do it themselves at a percentage cost of their total order value. This sum is then donated to verified programmes that are actively reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.
Beyond this, you may wish to offer your customers the chance to donate a percentage of their total order value to conservation charities and other non-profit groups. Checkout donations such as this are not only a benefit to the environment, but also to the perception of your brand and your bottom line by helping to reduce cart abandonment and increase sales.3
If your aim is to build a successful, longstanding brand (and it should be!), then the end-of-life of your products must be thoroughly considered as part of your environmental goals. This revolves around ensuring that there is a sustainable process to follow once a product inevitably wears or breaks, which could mean offering repairs and regular servicing to prolong the lifespan of your product.
Many eCommerce businesses, particularly within the fashion sector, are already offering an end-of-life “buy back” scheme, where customers can send products back to the brand to be recycled into new products, and – in return – receive credit towards buying a new item. Such schemes allow companies to take responsibility for the entire lifestyle of their products, reusing materials where they can, whilst promoting loyalty and repeat business across their customer base.
Fulfilling large order volumes in-house isn’t necessarily the most efficient and, therefore, eco-friendly means of getting products to the doorsteps of your customers. By outsourcing this process to a premium 3PL provider like Zendbox, you can save time and costs, whilst reaping the rewards of a more sustainable fulfilment service.
Awarded Organic Certification by the Soil Association, Zendbox puts sustainability at the heart of its operations. It uses recycled and/or recyclable packaging to process orders, and powers its fulfilment centres with renewable energy. Zendbox also provides online retailers access to its dedicated inventory management platform, Zendportal, which hosts the intuitive Inventory Analysis tool that provides real-time stock data at your fingertips.
Among the many features of Inventory Analysis is automated checking of product expiration dates. This enables you to save time, but also facilitates discounting initiatives on soon-to-expire products so this stock is cleared quickly, and waste is minimised for the benefit of your bottom line and the environment.
Embracing sustainability doesn’t require you to change everything about your business, but it does require you to commit and act in ways that can make a difference. Taking even just the smallest steps towards being more eco-friendly is a smart investment into the future of your company and, ultimately, to the health of the place we all call home.
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