The e-commerce business, indeed, is at its prime time. Entrepreneurs from all across the globe are making an excellent profit from its continuous rise. Many customers have gotten comfortable with online shopping, projecting an astonishing result in the market. In 2023, the number of online shoppers is at 2.64 billion and continuously rising, making up 33.3% of the entire population worldwide! It means one out of every three people shop online.
However, we don’t realize that since entrepreneurs focus on making things more effortless than ever, it negatively influences the environment. From apparel to FMCG, every single industry has shifted its brick-and-mortar store online, generating more and more waste. Customers now never stop buying products online.
Each step produces truckloads of waste from production to distribution to keep up with the demand. Mass production has become so prominent that many entrepreneurs need to pay more attention to the effects it could cause.
Looking at the stats, the growth of e-commerce will double in the next decade. Both small and medium enterprises combined are contributing to the detrimental influence on the planet. The influence ranges from carbon emissions to landfills, containing both recycled and non-recycle waste. Using natural resources and cutting down on waste is the leading way to move towards sustainable commerce.
In this article, we focus on the sustainability of e-commerce and how you can build an eco-friendly e-commerce platform and landscape for your customers.
What is Sustainable E-commerce?
Sustainable e-commerce is based on decreasing the negative impact on nature and considering other factors apart from profit. It also targets the carbon footprint of any item they use while manufacturing its products.
Businesses should look for ways to use more sustainable packaging and shipping materials, such as recycled paper, cardboard, and plastic. They can also reduce their environmental footprint by choosing suppliers mindful of their impact. Another way is to use energy-efficient technologies, such as cloud computing and data centers, and look for ways to reduce packaging and waste.
Benefits of Sustainable E-commerce
A report by Nielson states that nearly 73% of shoppers would probably change their consumption habits to reduce the environmental effect. This would affect both the shoppers and consumers in maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle.
Here are some of the key benefits of switching to sustainable e-commerce.
Environmental protection: It is one of the most critical pillars as companies have now focused on decreasing carbon footprints, waste from packaging, and the overall impact of business. It can positively impact the planet and businesses as a majority of customers would prefer buying from eco-friendly businesses.
Economic viability: Businesses should focus on the profitability and viability of their company to remain solvent. That said, sustainability and profitability certainly cannot come under one roof. Therefore, to ensure your business is eco-friendly, discuss it with your distributors and stakeholders and align it with the customer’s interest.
Building an Eco-friendly Brand
Establish a sustainability mission statement
The first step to establishing sustainable e-commerce is to create a mission statement and assimilate it throughout your organization. It takes more than the world of mouth to develop a green persona. Everyone in your company should know the core value and practice one task at a time, from your employees to stakeholders to higher management.
Your mission statement should include:
- A commitment to sustainability.
- Respect for the environment.
- A dedication to minimizing the company’s carbon footprint.
It should also include a commitment to reducing waste and promoting green packaging materials and energy-efficient transportation methods.
Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce Waste
Focus on energy efficiency & conservation
Businesses can focus on energy efficiency and conservation in a variety of ways. You can start by investing in energy-efficient technology, such as LED lighting, cooling systems, efficient heating and energy-efficient appliances. By investing in energy-efficient technology, businesses can reduce their energy consumption, costs, and environmental impact.
There are plenty of renewable energy sources to look at. These are solar, wind, and geothermal, or they use green building materials, such as recycled materials and insulation, to further reduce their energy consumption. Furthermore, sustainable e-commerce should educate its employees on energy conservation and efficiency by rewarding employees who use public transportation or carpool or encouraging employees to use reusable materials instead of disposable ones.
Outsource to ethical suppliers and manufacturers
Your choice of vendors, suppliers, and manufacturers speaks a lot about your environmentally conscious results. Take some time to research people or companies that believe in sustainability and practice that in their business. You can also ask your old vendors to practice eco-friendly e-commerce packaging and manufacturing. If they are persistent in their choices, you can partner or outsource to ethical suppliers and manufacturers.
Support local communities
Local communities are hugely beneficial for sustainable e-commerce development as they can provide a platform for personal connections, access to resources, and a framework for trust-building. The communities offer a valuable base for developing sustainable strategies, enabling businesses to build relationships with customers and local businesses and create economic opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
Take advantage of digital resources and tools
Once you’re done practicing earth-friendly culture, the next most significant thing is to promote green practices to your customers using digital tools. Your branding and marketing should be done so customers would also gravitate towards changing their lifestyle to be environmentally friendly.
Steps like recycling drives, reward systems, content marketing, promotion on the main website, and so on would be the best moves to provoke the audience and promote sustainability.
Make your business carbon neutral or carbon negative
A carbon-neutral business generates a limited carbon dioxide that should be equivalent to the amount being removed, which creates a net neutral result. Making a business carbon neutral or carbon negative is essential to protecting the environment and fighting climate change.
Here are six simple steps to make your business carbon-neutral:
- Calculate your carbon footprint
- Reduce it to the maximum point
- Offset the remaining carbon by investing in programs that reduce carbon emissions.
- Achieve carbon-neutral accreditation
- Promote your strategy openly on social media or websites.
Educate customers on sustainability practices
With the help of marketing, educate your customers as to why going green is the best thing to do today. Many companies roll out content, social media posts, emails, etc., to educate their customers and invoke them about sustainability.
Monitor your impact & set goals for improvement
You have to evaluate your sustainable e-commerce from where it started and find ways to improve the sustainability needs. Go over everything from your electricity to your products. Know your weaknesses and strengths and work on areas where the company needs to catch up.
Why Should You Adopt Sustainable E-commerce Practices?
As the entire e-commerce landscape is shifting towards creating a sustainable environment for customers, it has become imperative now more than ever to go green. Not just businesses but customers as well have understood the importance and need to build eco-friendly infrastructure. It shows in the consensus that most consumers would now go for sustainable e-commerce before it hits rock bottom.
How to Build a Sustainable E-commerce Business
As a beginner just stepping into eco-friendly e-commerce, you don’t have to overhaul your entire business to start lessening your environmental footprint. Here are four quick ways by which you can create an immediate impact.
01. Prioritize efficient delivery
One of the common e-commerce services is the rapid delivery of services. How does it happen? It’s because entrepreneurs know the value of speed in e-commerce. Many businesses offer same-day or next-day delivery services, which require strategic prioritization and seriously impact the environment.
A report by McKinsey states that 9/10 customers expect two-three days of delivery, which is why it has become even more important to meet the demand and have that competitive edge. But the catch is 71% of shoppers would now prefer slower shipping when it comes to saving the number of trees.
02. Opt for eco-friendly packaging
The containers and packaging materials comprise 28% of all consumer waste. Materials like paper and cardboard are mostly recycled compared to plastic, which is just 14%. Eco-friendly e-commerce businesses can start using recyclable and reusable materials—for instance, aluminum film, recyclable paper bags, eco-friendly papers, etc.
Strategies like rewarding customers who return or refill the bag would also help you lower your carbon footprint and the amount of waste produced. Some other ways to ensure eco-friendly packaging could be:
- 80% Compostable or Biodegradable packaging
- Take advantage of packaging optimization
- Incorporate eco-friendly labeling
- Look for packaging alternatives
- Use eco-friendly inks and adhesives
03. Reduce preventable returns
According to a National Retail Federation report, more than one in five e-commerce purchases are returned. And it’s not just about packaging but the fuel it takes to pick up the item from customers to the warehouse.
One of the ways to reduce pollution is to minimize the returns in the first place. You can provide the best quality and detailed description of the product.
04. Center promotions and loyalty rewards on green choices
Adding to eco-friendly e-commerce, promotions of going green are another best trick to attract more customers to your platform. Many start-ups and well-established companies have started to promote environmentally friendly products like anything.
You can opt for excellent strategies such as incentivizing eco-friendly products. For instance, you can offer loyalty rewards to customers who return cartridge boxes, use more than five eco-friendly products monthly, and so on. Companies have even started celebrating “Green Friday” instead of “Black Friday”, which is another great example of taking inspiration.
Long-term Changes for Making a Long-term Impact
01. Source sustainably and transparently
Customers nowadays want to know precisely what and how you use eco-friendly products. Anything you do regarding sustainability– ethical outsourcing, making cruelty-free products, cutting down waste, not using plastic bags, etc., should be showcased in your online stores.
Design your homepage so stakeholders and customers feel attracted to your company by seeing what and how you ensure sustainable e-commerce.
02. Create products for a “cradle to cradle” lifespan
It is high time to change the “cradle to grave” theory to “cradle to cradle”, demoting one-time product usage. The core focuses on prioritizing durability and reusability of products by intertwining easy-to-recycle products in daily lifestyle.
03. Repair, refurbish, and resell
Reselling is one of the biggest steps in business in years to come. Processes like repair, refurbishment, and reselling promote long-term ownership of purchases. It also extends the shelf life of most products. You can even create a platform that practices peer-to-peer resale. This way, you are helping more customers by providing authentic products.
04. Go green in stores
Physical stores, too, can move towards going green by– boosting energy efficiencies, using green materials, paperless point-of-sale transactions, and many more. Offline stores can reduce water usage by installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances, creating a green purchasing policy, and recycling and composting materials.
Stores can also reduce their carbon footprint by using green cleaning products, creating a green transportation policy, and encouraging employees to use public transportation or carpooling.
Steps to Move Toward Sustainable E-commerce
1. Update your brand ethos
It tells you about establishing your brand’s value in front of the customers to ensure the company understands sustainability.
2. Implement sustainable shipping
Entrepreneurs can use recyclable shipping materials and bulk shipping containers and discover eco-friendly programs from major carrier providers such as FedEx, UPS, and USPS.
3. Reduce packaging eco-friendly
This is one of the biggest steps in moving forward with low carbon footprints. This involves boxes of bigger sizes that can accommodate smaller items. It also includes using old packing materials to reduce packaging wastage.
4. Create recycling policies
You can make your recycling policies, such as using only eco-friendly materials in the office, tips to produce zero waste for a day, using cardboard boxes, and many more.
5. Reduce energy waste
It goes beyond packaging and shipping, where you must focus on managing electricity usage in your office and warehouse. Sustainable e-commerce can do energy audits to ensure where cuts can be made.
6. Add products that encourage sustainability
Manufacturing or selling sustainable-focused products by providing eco-friendly alternatives. It should solve problems by making customers include the product in their daily lifestyle.
7. Create an offset service charge at checkout
Buying carbon offsets is an effective way of balancing the associated environmental downside created while manufacturing products. It balances the amount of carbon dioxide induced with investing in projects such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
8. Use an e-commerce marketplace to resell your used merchandise
And finally, design your platform in a way where it sells both new and second-hand products. It will be economical for the customers and will help you achieve your sustainability goal to a great extent.
By now, you must have a bigger picture of how eco-friendly e-commerce is vital for all of us. It encourages businesses and customers to consider the planet before consuming any product. Many customers need to be made aware of each product’s carbon footprint.
Since they could not figure it out, it is the sole responsibility of store owners to at least mention the information on the product. It not only helps create awareness but also promotes net-zero carbon emission motive across the world.