Patagonia and the Future of Sustainable eCommerce


Founder of Patagonia Yvon Chouinard stole the headlines recently by making perhaps the biggest step towards brand sustainability by any fashion brand. Patagonia announced via their socials that 'Earth is now [their] only shareholder.'

What this means in real terms is that the company has been given away in its entirely with all of its profits - which are predicted to be around £87m a year - will go directly into fighting the climate crisis.

Patagonia has always been one of the more environmentally conscious fashion brands. They previously caught the eye with their 'don't buy this jacket' ad campaign, encouraging people to only buy things they really need. Slow fashion is certainly an emerging fashion trend, but Patagonia's move is the boldest yet.

So, can we expect a wider shift from fashion companies, and eCommerce companies in general, to make such drastic choices? We take a look at what we can expect in the next few years from companies trying to cut their carbon emissions and be more conscious of their environmental impact.

Fast vs. Slow Fashion

If we're looking under the microscope of the fashion industry specifically, the fast fashion business model is coming under increasing scrutiny for using poor quality material and cheap labour to shift clothes at cheaper prices.

This drives more sales, due to cheaper pricing, but due to the lower quality of product, things wear or break more easily. This in turn drives further sales. In total, more material is wasted, more deliveries are made, and the environmental impact is more negative as a result.

'Slow fashion' brands tend to focus on the opposite, using local artists or creators and higher quality, eco-friendly materials for their brands. Brands like this are also more likely to invest in sustainable packaging and eco-friendly delivery options.

Apps like Depop and Vinted allow people to clear their clutter and make some money, whilst buyers love getting products from well-known brands in a more sustainable way.

'Pre-loved' fashion is also blazing a trail in online. Apps such as Depop and Vinted are thriving marketplaces for people to share clothing they no longer need or want. This has a two-fold advantage - sellers can move on their clothes and avoid them going to landfill, and buyers can get cheap clothes from their favourite brands in a more eco-friendly way.

Even brands without a traditional fashion focus are entering this market - Love Island runner-up Tasha Ghouri recently became eBay's first pre-loved fashion ambassador. Even with a background in re-sales, eBay are entering the fashion market with a firm focus on sustainability.

Sustainable eCommerce Solutions

Patagonia's actions have certainly generated a lot of fanfare, and some are taking aim at self-proclaimed 'sustainable' or 'conscious' brands who have been exposed as not doing anywhere near as much as they could to combat climate change.

This is aimed particularly at huge multinationals - fast fashion brands who are shipping all over the world. It's obviously impractical for smaller brands to give away the entirety of their profits, but the size and impact of Patagonia's decision will be making brands of all sizes consider their position.

In a previous blog, we covered the domino effect of retailers such as Next, Boohoo and Zara beginning to charge for returns. Whilst we can't expect many companies to make such a momentous decision, many brands will be looking at how they can improve their own eco-credentials. There are many ways that eCommerce stores can make changes to their brand for the better, including:

  • Green Logistics: Partner with carriers that offer reduced or zero emission delivery - DPD, for example, are currently rolling out all-electric delivery in cities across the UK. If you're shipping internationally, perhaps offer customers the option to slightly delay their delivery so you can send more at once, cutting down on international flights to lower your carbon footprint.
  • Sustainable Packaging: Whether its reducing unnecessary packaging or making sure that the materials you do use are biodegradable, this can really make an impact on your customer, as its the first thing they see when receiving the product.
  • Sustainable Products: We know - it's not easy to use 100% sustainable materials when producing your products, especially changing what you've already got. But wherever there is something you can boast - make sure to mention it in your product descriptions!
  • Certification: If you're really confident of your eco-credentials, it's worth attempting to be recognised for this. B Corp certification, for example, shows beyond any doubt that you're committed to running your business as sustainably as possible.
  • Offsetting: Consider offering customers the ability to offset the carbon emissions of their delivery for a small fee at checkout. This is a great starter step, as you don't have to change much about your product, offering or website to enable this. Stay tuned for the release of this feature on the Shiptheory site!
  • Green Commitments: Whatever action you're taking to reduce your carbon emissions, it's worth having an area of your website dedicated to sharing this. Customers who care about your eco-credentials will love hearing about all the ways you're helping out!

Look to the Future

Slowly but surely, eCommerce is marching towards a more sustainable future, whether brands have a 'conscience' or are simply trying to appeal to consumer demands. Whilst we can't expect too many waves the size of Patagonia, the ripples of it are likely to be felt across the sector. With that in mind, it's worth exploring ways you can make your eCommerce operation greener.

Whilst daunting, you don't have to completely reinvent your company on Day 1. This could start with something like carbon credits and offsetting, and gradually scale to a fully fledged sustainable operation. Anything you can do to show customers you're thinking about the future is a step in the right direction. Who knows - it could be the one reason a customer opts for you over your competitor.

Keep an eye out for the release of carbon credits on the Shiptheory site over the next couple of months. If you're interested in reading more content focused around green eCommerce and shipping, we'd recommend our piece on eCommerce sustainability tips, where we speak to some valued Shiptheory partners to get their take on the industry 'going green'!

Sam Paternoster

Marketing Communications Executive at Shiptheory