E-commerce has transformed the way we shop—its accessibility and ease of use has many consumers opting to shop online for goods they historically have purchased in-store. In fact, it’s estimated that over 2 billion people shop online and in 2020 e-commerce sales in the U.S. grew 44%. This push toward digital commerce has been great for businesses to gain customers from all over the world, but there is an often overlooked toll it takes on the environment.
The Dark Side of E-commerce
With this rapid expansion of the e-commerce industry comes a negative impact on the environment. Each aspect of the e-commerce supply chain, from manufacturing to shipping, emits carbon and produces other pollutants that damage the environment and contribute to climate change.
Packaging and shipping play important roles in an e-commerce brand’s environmental footprint. A typical e-commerce package may use up to seven types of packaging materials: paper bills, envelopes, cardboard boxes, plastic bags, woven bags, tape, and buffer materials. When it comes to shipping, an increase in last mile delivery will increase carbon emissions by 30% by the year 2030. With the e-commerce industry poised for continued growth, the impact on the Earth will continue to grow unless brands take steps to mitigate their environmental impact.
Implementing Sustainable Initiatives
It’s not realistic nor practical to completely overhaul your supply chain overnight. Becoming a sustainable e-commerce brand means implementing effective, scalable, and lasting solutions that mitigate your impact on the environment.
Consumers want to support sustainable brands; 77% of Americans are concerned about the environmental impact of products they buy. The push for sustainability is particularly strong among the younger generations, with Millennials and Gen Z leading the charge with their willingness to pay more for environmentally sustainable products. At the end of the day, consumers want to support and champion sustainable brands, and if you want to capture those consumers you need to be thinking and acting sustainably.
Here are five tips to guide your business on your sustainability journey, whether you’re just starting or well on your way.
1. Eco-Friendly Packaging
Packaging is a great area of your supply chain to focus sustainability efforts on. Traditional plastic packaging is only used once before it ends up in a landfill for the next several hundred years. Focus on using more environmentally-friendly packaging, like cardboard, and biodegradable and compostable materials. Arka provides customizable sustainable packaging and works with your brand to reduce the amount of packaging overall by focusing on SIOC aka Ships In Its Own Container—which means your primary and secondary packaging become one.
Also look to reduce the amount of packaging fillers, or change to more sustainable options.
Recycled or recyclable packaging paper, shredded paper, and cardboard, and biodegradable packing peanuts are all great options over traditional plastic fillers. Switch to paper tape, and biodegradable or plastic plastic-free labels. The best way to reduce waste is by minimizing packaging in the first place, then opting for more sustainable options for what you can’t omit.
2. Change Shipping Methods
Shipping plays a part in the carbon footprint of any given e-commerce order. Especially with expedited shipping becoming the expected norm, this has only exacerbated the impact of shipping on the environment. In 2017, Amazon's package deliveries emitted about 19 million metric tons of carbon—a number that has only grown since then. Same-day shipping results in more trucks that are less full being dispatched. With slower shipping there are fewer trucks that are 100% full being sent out, reducing the total amount of trucks and carbon they produce.
Offer a slower shipping option at checkout. Customers who wait up to five days for delivery could help decrease carbon emissions by about 30%. You can even offer an incentive to customers to choose this option, like a discount on a future purchase. It’s also important to group orders and send everything in a single package rather than multiple individual parcels.
3. Optimize Your Website
Your site is a hidden source of carbon emissions. The average website produces 1.76g of carbon for every page view. Websites with more features, videos, and moving items create more emissions. You don’t need to redesign your entire site, just look for places to downsize images and videos. You can also switch to a “green” web host—a hosting service that runs on green energy. Optimizing your website won’t only help decrease carbon emissions, but will also help improve SEO. A more streamlined website means quicker load time and a lower bounce rate. Continuously evaluating your site for areas of improvement will keep your carbon footprint down and your visitors happy.
4. Energy Efficient Offices and Factories
This can require a heavier lift, but will only bring benefits. Where possible, switch to renewable sources of energy and upgrade appliances and machinery to be more energy-efficient. Power your offices using green energy. Switching to renewable energy reduces air pollution and reliance on imported fossil fuels (which can be expensive). When looking at manufacturers and suppliers, look for LEED certified manufacturers. LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. By working with LEEd certified manufacturers and suppliers you can introduce sustainability throughout your supply chain.
5. Go Carbon Neutral with Carbon Offsets
Carbon offsets are a great way to easily reduce your carbon footprint. The unfortunate reality is that pretty much everything we do, as individuals and businesses, produces carbon emissions. Carbon offsets are a practical way to mitigate the carbon emissions from various business activities. EcoCart makes it easy to offset the carbon footprint of shipping your products to your customers. Once installed to your e-commerce store, EcoCart calculates the carbon footprint of any given order and then offsets it by donating a proportional amount to verified carbon offsetting projects.
Becoming a sustainable brand is quickly becoming a necessity if you want to keep up with changing consumer sentiment. (Not to mention it’s also the best thing to do for the planet) By implementing sustainable practices into your e-commerce brand now, you can stay ahead of the curve and capture those conscious consumers. Regardless of where you start on your sustainability journey, the most important thing is that you do start. The aforementioned suggestions will help implement lasting and effective sustainability efforts that consumers will recognize and appreciate. Lastly, remember that being transparent about your efforts to better the environment and your impact in general will ensure customer loyalty and trust.
Peter Twomey is the co-founder and COO at EcoCart. Peter's professional passion is building software solutions that solve problems he experienced-first hand in his time as an entrepreneur. In his free time, you can find Peter skateboarding around San Francisco and cleaning up the beach with his dog Butters.