Anna Grechko is a marketing enthusiast and knows the field inside out. She is the marketing specialist at Smart IT. Sharing knowledge is a big part of her career, so Anna doesn’t miss any opportunity to do so.

Concern for our planet’s future is on the rise. Researchers found that the number of Americans alarmed about the global ecological situation nearly tripled. This has led to a greater interest in sustainability, especially in e-commerce.

Perhaps you already employ a sustainable business model and follow eco-conscious business practices, or maybe you are still not quite sure where to start. Regardless of where you are in this eco-journey, we hope this article will bring green value to your business.

In this deep dive, we’ll look at what sustainability looks like, reasons for going green, and how your business can adopt sustainable development practices. We hope this piece will inspire you with new ideas and give you a clear vision for eco-opportunities in your business.


What is Sustainability?

At its basic level, sustainability refers to a balance that allows human beings to get what they need from the Earth to survive and thrive without overusing the planet’s finite resources. So, sustainability means doing something in a way that does not jeopardize the Earth’s natural resources.

In business terms, sustainability is an approach for creating value by taking into consideration ecological, social, and economic aspects.

Why is sustainability important for e-commerce businesses?

According to a recent study, 57% of shoppers said that green packaging is essential for all brands. 61% of consumers have considered green packaging when deciding where to shop regardless of whether a brand positions itself as ‘green’ or not. Consumer preferences indicate pretty clearly that people want to associate themselves with brands that strive for eco-conscious practices.

US e-commerce sales grew 14.9% in 2019, according to Digital Commerce 360. But as e-commerce grows, so does its environmental impact. All those cardboard boxes and plastic packing have to go somewhere, and oftentimes that somewhere in the ocean or a landfill.

The sustainable approach in the e-commerce industry means switching to an approach that, no matter your industry or product, makes your e-commerce business more eco-friendly.

Both big and small brands take advantage of the call for more green initiatives and come up with plans to make their businesses more sustainable. Industry giant Zara announced it intended to use only organic and recycled materials for their clothing by 2025. However, their business model is considered fast fashion because people are supposed to buy and wear items for a short time, which is not really an eco-conscious approach.

Smaller brands can make sustainability a core part of their business model, which may help them differentiate from e-commerce giants.

Reasons to switch to a sustainable business model

Let’s cover a few reasons for going sustainable.

1. It can help you outpace the competition

Companies with business models that make use of renewable resources and implement eco-conscious practices will be a step ahead of the competitors who haven’t considered the opportunity yet. Now or later, most businesses will eventually shift to a sustainable approach. It is also obvious now that customers and clients will be more loyal to companies with sustainable business models. That’s why investing some time and energy in exploring sustainability is worth the effort.

2. It can save you money

Adding too much packaging material to a shipment will obviously add cost and weight, leading to losses for both your business and the planet. On the flip side, adding too little packing material may result in items being damaged during delivery. While a proper package has a better impact both on the customer experience and the environment. That’s why finding a balance is key.

3. It can help the brand reputation

More and more customers are becoming conscious about reducing environmental harm. Even more, they’re starting to show it in online purchases. This is especially typical for millennials who buy from and look for brands that align with their values.

Even if you don’t associate your brand with millennials or don’t plan to attract them, focusing on a sustainable business model will show your consumers that your brand stands for particular values.

Steps to Move Toward Sustainable Ecommerce

Step 1: Set goals

It can be really helpful to have a ‘North Star’ of some kinda goal that will help you focus and motivate your sustainability efforts. To identify the most concerning environmental impacts your company has, use a lifecycle analysis approach. Once you understand which environmental issues your business has, set meaningful goals. Here are some examples of sustainability goals to help you get started:

  • Source only recycled or organically grown materials in X years
  • Cut your emissions per product sold in half in X years
  • Donate $30,000 to environmental causes in X years
  • Eliminate the usage of virgin plastic in X years

Establish a clear time frame by which your goals will be met.

Step 2: Update your brand ethos

Your brand ethos tells your clients and customers who you are as a brand and what your values are. It is a crucial part of how people see you and what they associate you with. As an e-commerce company, you can convey your brand ethos through statements on your website, your blog, and social media posts, your ads, etc. You can also include a statement about your focus on ethical and sustainable practices in the “About Us” page. Keep in mind that updating your mission statement cannot be the first step as you need to back up your words with real actions.

Step 3: Implement sustainable shipping

A good portion of a carbon footprint comes from e-commerce shipping when the package is moved from a fulfillment center to a home address which adds to vehicular pollution. There are many ways to reduce the impact of shipping, and one of them is to explore eco-friendly programs from major carriers like FedEx or UPS that offer paperless invoicing and other green options.

Another way to make your shipping more sustainable is to cut down the number of returned items, as being shipped both ways doubles the negative impact. You can consider providing clearer product descriptions and sizing information to make sure your customers get the exact information they need. You can also adapt your return policy to discourage customers from ordering multiple sizes of an item to see what fits best.

Step 4: Reduce packaging

After ordering a book on Amazon you meet a delivery man at the front door who is holding a box big enough to carry, you know, a refrigerator. Or getting your six items purchased through your favorite online store separate packages over the space of two days. Doesn’t it sound familiar?

Packaging waste is a huge issue for e-commerce businesses. As so many items are shipped in different ways there’s no single shipping solution that will work for every e-commerce business across the entire industry.

Anyway, there are some solutions you can try to see what will work best:

  • Switch to eco-friendly packaging such as recycled boxes
  • Refuse from shipping in multiple boxes and bundle items instead
  • Switch to emailed receipts instead of paper ones

Step 5: Reduce energy waste

Sustainability is not only shipping practices. It’s also about the way your offices and warehouses are run. Making simple changes like turning off equipment when it’s not in use, and investing in low energy lighting can significantly lower energy bills.

Step 6: Add products that encourage sustainability.

A key part of a sustainable business is including eco-focused product offerings, especially when customers are interested in buying such products. This could mean, for example, providing more eco-friendly alternatives to existing products. By including more green products in your line you are opening up your business to a larger customer base demanding or eager to see/buy such products.

Executive Summary

Not all of these steps will necessarily make sense for all businesses. Nobody knows your business best, that’s why it’s up to you to choose a suitable strategy for switching to a sustainable business model.

Anyway, if you run an e-commerce business, it is crucial to look carefully at your own practices or run the risk of being left behind by the new wave of environmentally-savvy customers.

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