We all know that our environment is not in good shape. Plastic waste is polluting our oceans, and climate change seems to occur more frequently. As an individual business owner, decisions to be more sustainable can go a long way to helping create a more productive and positive change in the environment.
Consumers are the main focus for businesses, and many realise that sustainability is a crucial element towards helping the planet. Unfortunately, e-commerce business tends to rely heavily on convenience rather than the environmental impact that it creates. The effects of COVID-19 increased the utilisation of eCommerce for businesses worldwide, and many of them are still determining proper supply chain, operations, software, and tools for efficiency. Sustainable practices need to also be a priority in place.
If all business owners utilised more sustainable business practices, it would profoundly impact our planet. Businesses should work towards a future of success while allowing the ability not just to survive but thrive. But the question still lies - where do you start?
Many eCommerce business owners have the misconception and concern that working towards more environmentally friendly alternatives will be costly. However, finances are essential in helping a business thrive, so it is no surprise that a tight budget may not allow for some sustainability tactics.
However, there are options out there for you to run a more sustainable eCommerce business. The best part is that many of these techniques are small, low-cost changes that can lead to a much more significant impact. It also will make you feel great as a business owner to know that you are playing a part in aiding the environment.
What is sustainability?
Sustainability simply means that you conduct your business not to deplete natural resources and support ecological balance within eCommerce. Sometimes, this can mean going in a less than convenient way since most of the more immediate and less costly operations are not as sustainable as others.
Ultimately, there needs to be a balance within the environment, economics, and society to reach sustainability, as shown here in this image from The Open University:
The breakdown of each pillar looks like this:
This is where companies will focus on reducing carbon footprints to make a more substantial ecological impact. Focusing on this helps build a more loyal customer base since consumers will value these efforts, leading to increased revenue.
The concerns that come up under this determine whether or not the business stakeholders’ interests align with customers, values, and the community as a whole. The business needs to focus on profitability, but not at the expense of the environment or society.
Even though this is not where the most prominent focus lies, it is still an essential aspect of sustainability. While being mindful of the environment and costs, businesses still need to operate to benefit employees and pay attention to the supply chain to ensure those creating the products or services are being compensated and treated well.
Here are some less costly ways that your business can work with the growing concern over sustainability while still adhering to your mission and values.
Implement sustainable packaging and shipping
Making your packaging recyclable or biodegradable is one way that you can effectively be more sustainable. In a recent survey of global eCommerce consumers, over 80% said they would want their packaging of parcels to be recyclable. This consumer study clearly demonstrates the growing concern of sustainability and the need for reuse or recycling.
With the high demand for fast shipping and online shopping, the volume of items and their packaging creates a significant environmental impact. The carbon footprint is typically moving the package to the home because it adds pollution from vehicles across residential areas.
There are multiple ways to reduce shipping impact, like using recyclable packaging, for example. You could also improve shipping by researching what eco-friendly programs from major carriers like FedEx, UPS, and USPS can offer for your company, such as paperless invoicing and other green options.
You can look into a reduction of your packaging as well so that you don’t have smaller items taking up larger-sized boxes. It might involve buying multiple boxes in various sizes, but utilising larger containers for smaller items will typically require more packing material, so you will ultimately save or offset your costs.
One last way to exercise sustainable shipping practice is to cut down on returns since this creates the packages being shipped both ways, doubling the impact. When you make your product descriptions, be as straightforward as possible and provide things like sizing information where relevant to ensure that your customers know exactly what they are receiving. You might also consider modifying your return policy to discourage consumers from buying multiples to return what doesn’t fit.
Leverage low-impact materials for your products
Take some time to audit your current materials utilised for your products and calculate the impact this has on the environment. For example, you could try using other fabrics than cotton for products like t-shirts since cotton uses 2700 litres of water for just one single t-shirt. Also, consider other sustainable materials, like hemp.
Sourcing materials can be a fun way to bring out your creative side in your business while allowing you to be more sustainable. For example, if your company produced food products, you could look into alternative industries than meat or dairy since they account for a large portion of human emissions. The company AKUA uses a form of kelp that grows in the ocean and doesn’t take up land, so it absorbs carbon, and they successfully develop meat products like jerky and burgers with it.
Decrease energy waste
Beyond your product and shipping setup, you can also make some simple changes within your place of business to make an impact. Some of these changes would include turning off equipment when not in use, turning down the temperature, or making an investment in LED lighting for lower energy use.
It will help if you get a team together to audit the energy waste across the business. Utilise and organise your tool for link management so that you can track everything and monetise your eCommerce links in one place. Then, your team can break down by department where cuts or other alternatives to reduce energy can be made. You can then decide where to start implementing the changes or strategise on where to begin. Eventually, you can assert an overall difference in the use of energy from your staff.
Reduce carbon footprint
Instead of focusing just on the packaging and energy waste, you could also look into carbon-neutral delivery options. For example, shipping companies, including Sendle and DHL, offer and provide carbon-neutral deliveries.
You can also look at the Offset Application, which calculates delivery emissions of your orders based on weight, distance travelled, and transportation. Purchasing carbon offsets may require you to have customers help with an optional charge if you have trouble investing in the offsets directly through your business budget. Just ensure that you are choosing a reputable carbon offset project.
You must take the time to assess your company’s current emissions before diving into finding ways to reduce these emissions. For example, you might want to find out which business endeavours omit the most carbon dioxide, such as employees commuting to and from work or the energy used within the facility itself. As an eCommerce business, it can be just as easy to work remotely in some cases, but a facility may be necessary to produce products.
Once you have established where the most emissions are being used, you can look into what opportunities you have for reducing. For example, you could look into setting a reduction target as some other businesses do and set forth the goal to reach zero net emissions. Some options could be looking into harnessing renewable energy, using electric vehicles, or finding ways to minimise waste within the workplace.
Transition to sustainable eCommerce
Your eCommerce business provides a convenient online shopping experience for your customers that is fast and easy. The problem is that the desire for “fast and easy” has led to a decline in maintaining an environmentally friendly balance. Having the ability and locating opportunities to create a positive sustainability practice is excellent for your business, but it is also essential to the wellbeing of our environment.
Not all of these options will make sense for every eCommerce business, so you will have to evaluate, assess, and research all viable options that will create the best impact and not compromise your set budgets.
Sustainability is a concern that affects us all. Many shoppers have growing concerns and are ultimately searching for those eCommerce companies practising with sustainability in mind. Making the strides towards creating more sustainable packages, products, delivery methods and reducing waste and emissions will help your business to stand out while creating a positive environmental impact for the future.
Ship sustainable with Shiptheory
No matter what sustainability practices you choose to implement to protect the environment and meet consumer expectations, using a shipping management platform like Shiptheory, gives you access to the best sustainable shipping solutions for your e-commerce business. That way, Shiptheory can save your company money and time while at the same time help you reduce your carbon footprint.
Author: Donna Maurer
As an experienced content creator, Donna has covered numerous topics in the realms of health, beauty, lifestyle, and the arts. She has written for various publications and can often be found conducting research for her latest article. Donna spends her free time exploring New York City, where her days are filled with new life experiences and adventures to write about!