Green Is the New Black: Why Sustainability in Ecommerce Matters (And How Your Brand Can Get on Board)
Sustainability has been a hot-button issue for years, but it wasn’t until somewhat recently that everyday consumers considered it important when shopping online. Over the last ten years, however, there’s been an “eco-wakening” that has prompted shoppers to search for more environmentally friendly products and practices.
It may seem at odds with the rise of online shopping, which can skew toward wastefulness, but ecommerce businesses are responding in turn. From reducing packaging waste to supporting local communities, there are many steps that ecommerce businesses like yours can take to promote sustainability and contribute to a more environmentally and socially conscious future.
What Is Sustainability?
Sustainability means keeping future generations’ needs in mind while also meeting the needs of the present. Essentially, it’s about finding ways to live and operate in a way that is environmentally responsible and socially conscious. And it’s a crucial concept in today’s world as we face a number of environmental and social challenges that threaten the well-being of both people and the planet.
There are nearly endless ways to “go green” as an individual, from avoiding single-use products like plastic straws to taking public transportation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The modern landscape offers plenty of opportunities for sustainability, even in an industry like ecommerce. In fact, brands are becoming more eco-conscious seemingly every year and are paving a greener way forward.
Ecommerce Sustainability Statistics to Know
Online retailers are increasingly jumping on the sustainability bandwagon, with plenty of sellers offering options like recyclable packaging and slower shipping times. But how are these practices impacting ecommerce overall? Take a look at these statistics to find out.
- Two-thirds of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. (Accenture)
- Amazon’s emissions reached 71.54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2021. (Statista)
- At least 40% of American consumers receive one or more parcels from Amazon per week. (BigCommerce)
- 46% of surveyed ecommerce businesses want to offer their customers easily recyclable items. (Statista)
- 40% of those same businesses plan to address manufacturing efficiency to increase their sustainability efforts. (Statista)
- 73% of shoppers would “definitely” or “probably” consider adopting more sustainable consumption habits. (Nielsen)
- 72% of consumers across North America, Europe and Asia are actively buying more eco-friendly products. (BigCommerce)
- 4.34 million tons of ecommerce returns end up in landfills annually. (Statista)
Why Sustainability Matters in Ecommerce
When it comes to ecommerce, sustainability is an important consideration because online shopping can have a significant impact on the environment. From packaging waste to transportation emissions, there are many ways that the ecommerce industry can contribute to environmental problems — more than traditional brick-and-mortar retail.
However, ecommerce also has the potential to be more sustainable than traditional in-person shopping in some ways. For instance, it can reduce the need for physical storefronts, which use energy for heating, cooling and lighting. Additionally, ecommerce allows for greater transparency and traceability in supply chains, which can give shoppers peace of mind that products are sourced and produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
But why does sustainability in ecommerce actually matter? On the small scale, going green can keep excess waste out of landfills, reduce your brand’s carbon footprint and support local producers. (Not to mention that consumers are seeking out sustainable brands when shopping online, so you’ll capture new customers and improve customer sentiment.) Looking at the bigger picture, however, sustainable ecommerce businesses can contribute to a healthier planet and population in the future.
Simply put, green is the new black — shoppers love it, and it’s a major trend that isn’t going anywhere. Read on for some ideas about how to make your business more eco-friendly.
Idea #1: Reduce Your Packaging
All savvy online retailers know the power of packaging, but you may not have considered how much packaging you use says as much about your brand as the colors and designs. All too often, parcels arrive on a customer’s doorstep with plastic and styrofoam pieces that only create a bulk of waste. There is certainly a need for protective packaging, especially for fragile items, but consumers are frustrated by the excess. In fact, a 2022 survey of U.S. and U.K. consumers revealed 64% of shoppers agree that online retailers should reduce their packaging to make their shipping practices more sustainable.
Reducing your packaging is sure to delight your customers. If you cannot reduce the volume, however, consider using materials that are easy to recycle or compost.
Idea #2: Use Cleaner Energy
Sustainable ecommerce involves every part of the process, including the energy used in production. If possible in your area or your budget, consider using clean and renewable energy sources to power your operations. This can involve investing in solar or wind power, or purchasing renewable energy credits from a utility provider. By using clean energy, online retailers can reduce their carbon footprint and minimize their impact on the environment.
Additionally, using renewable energy is often a cost-effective solution for ecommerce businesses in the long run, as it helps reduce energy costs and increase operational efficiency.
Idea #3: Offer Greener Shipping
Another way your brand can practice sustainability by using “green” shipping methods. This involves partnering with shipping companies that use alternative fuel vehicles, such as electric or hybrid trucks, or offering carbon offset programs to customers. By encouraging customers to consolidate orders or providing incentives for eco-friendly shipping options, online retailers can reduce the number of shipments sent out and the associated carbon emissions.
This isn’t always feasible, especially if you’re just getting your start in ecommerce, but even offering slower shipping options makes a positive impact.
Idea #4: Source Eco-Friendly Products
Sustainable product sourcing involves finding items that are made from sustainable materials, such as recycled or biodegradable materials, or produced using environmentally responsible manufacturing practices. By offering products that are eco-friendly, fair trade, or sustainable, your ecommerce business can appeal to the growing number of shoppers who prioritize environmental and social responsibility — and you can advertise these greener products accordingly.
In addition to sourcing sustainable products, you can also make a positive impact by avoiding products that are harmful to the environment, such as those that contain toxic chemicals or contribute to deforestation.
Idea #5: Create a Recycling Program
Recycling is often made the end customer’s responsibility, but ecommerce businesses can help by creating recycling programs. If you partner with a recycling company, you and your customers can properly dispose of materials: cardboard, plastic and more. You can also include information about recycling in customers’ packaging or offer incentives for using the original packaging materials if they make a return.One great example is apparel brand H&M, which runs a “Close the Loop” recycling program that sorts unwanted garments into wearable secondhand items, reused fabric for other purposes or recycled textile threads for new items. Anyone who makes a donation also gets a coupon to use toward their next purchase.
Idea #6: Support Local
Supporting local producers, artisans, manufacturers and creators is arguably the best thing you can do to improve your brand’s sustainability. Think about it: Buying from someone in your own backyard keeps costs and emissions low because there is little to no shipping involved, and the money goes right back into the local economy.
In addition, supporting local communities can help ecommerce businesses build stronger relationships with their customers and create a sense of shared purpose and responsibility.
It’s Time to Go Green
The endless options for making your ecommerce business more green can feel overwhelming, but it also means you can choose the tweaks and tactics that work best for you. For more reading about eco-friendly online retail, don’t miss our related guide, Why Sustainability Is a Must for Ecommerce Packaging, and some other tips on using greener practices to add appeal to your brand.