Online shopping, ecommerce apps and social commerce has changed the way we shop. With just a few simple clicks, our chosen products will be winging their way to our doors – but while it’s a simple process for consumers, it’s a different story behind the scenes and one that has a significant impact on online retailers’ carbon footprint.
Ecommerce is hugely convenient for both consumers and retailers, but with even the simplest actions generating carbon emissions – from making Zoom calls to sending emails – it also has the unfortunate byproduct of increasing businesses’ carbon footprints.
Websites often carry a large carbon footprint if they contain a lot of large files (such as images) and high definition videos. Ecommerce sites are no different – and, according to KommandoTech – there are currently over 20 million of them on the internet.
With consumers paying more attention than ever to retailers’ ethical shortfalls, many are becoming increasingly reluctant to purchase from a website which does not align with their environmental or ethical beliefs.
Ecommerce fulfilment provider Zendbox‘s Gilson Pereira spoke to Charged to outline five ways that online retail businesses can become more sustainable.
Eliminate single-use plastics and switch to sustainable packaging
According to Pereira, around five million tonnes of plastic are used every day, with nearly 50% being used in packaging.
“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,” he said.
“As such, it’s important to reduce single-use plastic across your supply chain or, better yet, eliminate it entirely.”
Switching to a more sustainable form of packaging that is made from recycled materials or materials that are compostable is a great way to reduce a businesses’ carbon footprint.
“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 rubbish,” Pereira added.
“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.”
Ditch ‘next-day delivery’ and offer your customers ‘greener’ shipping options
The last-mile delivery sector has also undertaken a shift in recent years, prompted by large players such as Amazon offering next-day delivery with its popular Prime subscription service.
While this has been great for consumers, who have now got used to waiting a mere 24 hours for packages at little extra cost, it has big drawbacks 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,” Pereira explained.
“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.”
Pereira recommends using more eco-conscious courier services that are as committed to protecting the environment as the ecommerce business is.
“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,” he said.
“Partnering with carriers such as these could go a long way to supporting carbon-neutral shipping.”
Provide a carbon offset or environmental donation at checkout
Another way of inspiring a greener culture at an ecommerce business is to provide a carbon offset or environmental donation at checkout.
Swedish fintech giant Klarna is among a number of companies that now offer tools to help consumers calculate the total carbon footprint of each order.
Pereira believes that this can drive a positive change by getting consumers to offset the footprint by donating to verified companies that help to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere.
“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.”
Take your products’ end-of-life into account
Considering when a product may come to the end of its lifespan and implementing measures to prolong them can be a useful way of keeping carbon emissions low.
“If your aim is to build a successful, longstanding brand, then the end-of-life of your products must be thoroughly considered as part of your environmental goals,” Pereira said.
“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.”
Pereira suggests offering end-of-life “buy back” schemes where customers can send products back to brands to be recycled into new products, while receiving credit towards purchasing a new item in return.
“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,” he wrote.
Outsource your fulfilment to a more sustainable third party logistics (3PL) provider
Switching to using a third party logistics provider can be a good way of lowering costs, but some are less sustainable than others.
Outsourcing to a more premium third party logistics company can be a good way of saving time, costs and also making a huge difference to a company’s carbon output.
“For instance, by offering slower shipping options and using plugins like Shopify that enable carbon offsetting at checkout, ecommerce sites provide customers a choice.
“Although slower shipping can delay delivery times, it enables businesses to consolidate and minimise the number of packages arriving at a customer’s doorstep.
“Delaying deliveries can take the pressure off your supply chain for the benefit of your business, but there’s an environmental advantage too in reducing carbon emissions and waste from excess packaging.”
It is important for retailers to take notice of changing consumer opinions on the environment or risk being ditched for a company that consumers believe are more aligned to their values.