Sustainable Order Fulfillment: A Guide For Ecommerce Businesses

Sustainable Order Fulfillment: A Guide For Ecommerce Businesses

In today's rapidly evolving eCommerce landscape, sustainability has become a top priority for businesses worldwide. As an eCommerce store or brand owner, you may have noticed the growing demand for environmentally responsible practices.

We can confirm that it’s not your imagination. As many as 73% of shoppers would be willing to change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact. Another 60% would be willing to pay more for a product with sustainable packaging.

Consumers care more about the environment than ever now, and their buying habits reflect this. For that reason, many businesses are shifting their focus towards sustainable order fulfillment strategies, since that’s the most viable way to reduce their ecological footprint without compromising customer experience.

In this article, we will talk about how order fulfillment affects the environment and how you can build a more sustainable supply chain.

How Order Fulfillment Impacts The Environment

Order fulfillment – if you run an eCommerce store, you can’t get around it. It encompasses everything from warehousing to shipping and handling returns.

In the recent past, order fulfillment has had a lot of negative impacts on the environment. In many ways, it still does, with conventional packaging materials like bubble wrap and polystyrene contributing to the ever-growing problem of plastic pollution. 

That’s just the packaging alone, too. Shipping and transportation of items, at least right now, involves burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Between manufacturing and shipment to end customers, items sit in warehouses, which requires a non-trivial amount of energy usage in the meantime.

Ecommerce also has notoriously high return rates, which further exacerbates the problem. Every return requires more transportation, more packaging, and – ultimately – more energy. For example, a customer might return a pair of shoes because of an inaccurate sizing guide, leading to more emissions and waste generated during the return process.

And yet, as hard as order fulfillment can be on the environment, there are truckloads of ways to make it more sustainable, not to mention efficient. Ecommerce store and brand owners really can make a difference in the environment by adopting sustainable practices. It all starts by making informed decisions, all of which are compatible with the classic business objective – turning a profit.

Sustainable Order Fulfillment Strategies

#1: Use Eco-Friendly Packaging Materials

If you’re looking for a tangible way to improve your impact on the environment, eco-friendly packaging should be top of mind. For instance, consider using paper-based alternatives to plastic, such as corrugated cardboard, paper tape, and paper void fill. These materials are not only recyclable but also often made from a high percentage of recycled content, reducing the need for brand-new resources.

If you want to take it a step further, use biodegradable and recyclable materials such as PLA (polylactic acid) and PHA (polyhydroxyalkanoate). Both PLA (derived from cornstarch) and PHA (made from microorganisms), can biodegrade when conditions are right. This is more friendly for the environment, and might win over customers who are still planning their gardens this year.

#2: Minimize Packaging Waste

Minimizing packaging waste is another critical aspect of sustainable order fulfillment that eCommerce store owners and brand owners should prioritize. When customers think of how corporations make a negative impact on the environment, packaging waste is often the first thing to come to mind. Cutting down on excess materials will not only make a dramatic improvement in your actual carbon footprint but in your perceived carbon footprint as well. Plus, it saves money.

One way to minimize packaging waste is by reducing the use of plastic packaging. The dangers of plastic waste to the environment are well-documented, with harmful effects on marine life, ecosystems, and human health. By limiting single-use plastics in your packaging, you can help combat this growing issue. Opt for eco-friendly alternatives mentioned earlier, like paper-based materials and plant-based plastics, to make a positive impact.

Another effective method for reducing packaging waste is right-sizing packages to minimize void fill. Using packaging that is appropriately sized for the product reduces the need for additional protective materials and lowers shipping costs. Companies like Arka offer solutions that create custom-sized boxes, ensuring efficient and sustainable packaging.

#3: Offset Carbon Emissions

Carbon offsetting involves compensating for your business's carbon emissions by supporting projects that reduce greenhouse gases elsewhere. By purchasing carbon credits, you can essentially "offset" your emissions and contribute to global climate change mitigation efforts.

To effectively implement carbon offsetting, consider partnering with reputable carbon offset programs, such as Gold Standard, Verified Carbon Standard, or Green-e. These programs support various projects, including renewable energy development, reforestation, and methane capture initiatives, that help remove or prevent the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Bear in mind, though – it’s still better to prevent the release of carbon in the first place than it is to offset it. However, when this is not possible, carbon offsets are a good alternative.

#4: Increase Efficiency of Transportation, Warehousing, and Logistics

Improving the efficiency of transportation, warehousing, and logistics is another powerful way for ecommerce store and brand owners to reduce their carbon emissions and overall environmental impact. By adopting greener practices in these areas, businesses can simultaneously achieve cost savings and contribute to sustainability.

The biggest thing eCommerce store owners can do here is to find an order fulfillment partner that follows eco-friendly best practices. For example, energy-efficient warehousing partners can significantly reduce your business's carbon footprint. Ask your potential fulfillment partners if they use LED lighting, solar power systems, and efficient heating and cooling systems to optimize energy consumption in the warehouse.

Additionally, consider adopting a just-in-time inventory system to streamline operations, reduce waste, and limit excess stock. Good inventory control processes can make a huge difference in environmental impact.

#5: Decrease Product Returns

High return rates are rough for everyone involved. It means unhappy customers, tighter profit margins, and more carbon emissions due to the additional transportation and packaging required for returns.

To decrease product returns, start by providing accurate product descriptions and high-quality images on your website. This ensures that customers have a clear understanding of the items they are purchasing, reducing the likelihood of returns due to unmet expectations.

Offering detailed size guides for clothing and footwear can also help customers make informed decisions, minimizing the chances of returns due to incorrect sizing. Work with your suppliers to obtain accurate sizing information, and consider incorporating user-generated reviews or testimonials to help customers gauge the fit of your products.

Even if you try really hard, though, you’ll never entirely eliminate returns. For that reason, it’s best to offer digital return labels and reusable boxes for easy return shipping. If you can partner with eco-friendly logistics providers to minimize emissions during the return process, that’s even better.

6 Steps Implement Sustainable Order Fulfillment Processes

Knowing about sustainable order fulfillment strategies is a great start. But to truly make a meaningful difference in the environment, while keeping costs in check, businesses need to take a comprehensive approach.

With that in mind, here are six steps to implementing sustainable order fulfillment processes.

1. Assess Your Current Fulfillment Processes

Start by reviewing your existing processes to identify areas for improvement. Pay close attention to packaging materials and shipping methods used, as well as the warehousing practices currently in place. Odds are good that something will jump out at you as being a place where you can rapidly make significant improvements.

2. Set Sustainability Goals

Establish clear and measurable sustainability objectives for your business. Make sure these goals are realistic, achievable, and aligned with your overall business strategy. Factors to consider here include energy use, waste, and carbon emissions.

3. Collaborate with Eco-Friendly Suppliers and Logistics Partners

Partner with suppliers and logistics providers that share your commitment to sustainability. If you want to cut down on packaging waste, pair with a company that specializes in eco-friendly packaging. If warehousing is where you stand to make the greatest improvement, find a third-party logistics partner that specializes in eco-friendly shipping.

4. Educate Your Customers on Sustainable Practices

Make sure your customers know that you are doing the hard work of going green! Tell them about your eco-friendly practices and encourage them to participate. Request that they recycle or choose carbon-neutral shipping. Not only will this make your processes greener, but it can also strengthen your brand image and possibly even increase revenue as well.

5. Track Revenues and Expenses

Sustainability initiatives should be financially sustainable too. Make sure your key performance indicators (KPIs) include data on the financial impact of sustainability practices. If you need to slowly roll out sustainability changes over time to prevent issues with cash flow or expenses, then do so.

6. Regularly Review and Improve Your Sustainability Strategies

Continuously monitor and evaluate your sustainable order fulfillment practices to identify areas for further improvement. We learn more about sustainability every day, and there’s always a new industry trend or advancement in technology. Keep an eye on the news and seek out more ways to improve as you become aware of new opportunities.


By following these six steps, you can smoothly roll out sustainable order fulfillment practices in your eCommerce business, benefiting both the environment and your bottom line. As your company grows and changes, your commitment to sustainability will not only enhance your brand reputation but also contribute to a healthier planet for future generations.

Final Thoughts

This is the perfect time to implement sustainable processes in your business. Customers want brands to take ownership of environmental issues, and they’re willing to pay extra if you do it. There used to be a conflict between saving the world and saving money – now there simply isn’t.

Changing up order fulfillment processes is one of the best ways that eCommerce companies can make a difference. By implementing eco-friendly solutions, you can improve efficiency, reduce costs, and appeal to a broader customer base while simultaneously contributing to a greener future.

Brandon Rollins is Director of Marketing at Fulfillrite. His main areas of expertise are online marketing and supply chain management.

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