With the climate crisis becoming an ever more pressing issue, it’s on our shoulders to live more sustainable lives. This applies to businesses too – the way we practice ecommerce has an impact on the world around us and the future we invest in. With nearly eight in ten saying sustainability is important to them, attracting customers now requires taking environmental responsibility in your ecommerce store.
What Is Sustainable Business?
Put simply, sustainable business is reducing the negative effects of your enterprise on the environment, moving to benefit and protect it instead. Alongside asking questions of what is call center IVR or how to expand your customer base, sustainable businesses look for environmentally friendly solutions, also questioning their long-term impact.
From this perspective, ecommerce should not succeed at the expense of the planet.
It’s important to highlight here the difference between green-washing and sustainable business. Green-washing is essentially a marketing campaign that uses eco-buzzwords to promote products and brands without necessarily following through with sustainable business practices.
On the other side of the coin, sustainable business is genuinely investing in a mode of business that works to protect and nurture the environment, which will mean significant changes.
Making Your Ecommerce Store More Sustainable
Sustainable business can happen at any stage of your ecommerce store. Small changes can have huge impacts, making your business more environmentally-minded. We have a few suggestions to help you adapt each stage of your ecommerce to be more sustainable, using environmentally friendly materials and investing in conscious business and workplace innovations.
Source Local Suppliers
Starting at the beginning of the ecommerce process, where you source your products and materials from already begins to build up the carbon footprint of your product. Transporting materials long distances increases the emissions produced, contributing to the total emissions caused by parcel and freight shipping, which are predicted to generate 25 million tons of CO2 by the end of the decade.
Instead, look for local suppliers for your materials where possible. Shopping locally can massively reduce the transportation costs and emissions of your products, as well as support local industries. There’s also the chance to create relationships with local suppliers, building an understanding of where and how your materials and products are produced.
Having knowledge of where your materials originate, especially if they’re locally sourced, is something customers increasingly want to know.
Using website personalisation tools, you can highlight products or materials made locally to your customers. Presenting customers with this information establishes a sense of trust and associates transparency with your business, as well as making the product more personal to them.
Evaluate Your Materials
Perhaps a more obvious area of sustainability to the customer’s eye is in the materials you use to create your products. Plastic uses vast amounts of non-renewable oil and often can end up in landfills, whilst still being one of the most frequently used materials with over 300 million metric tons being produced yearly. Moving to reusable, biodegradable, and naturally, renewable materials can reduce waste and lead to responsible usage of natural resources.
Consider the materials put into your products. Think also of less obvious components used, such as the power to run machines and energy for offices. Where possible, develop and innovate new solutions and ways of creating your products using sustainable alternatives.
Similarly, look into renewable energy providers for your business, covering all bases for your materials.
In recent years, there’s been an increase in developing products and imagining them to be more sustainable. Refillable deodorants, cutting out the unrecyclable plastic casing and synthetic ingredients, fashion accessories made from up-cycled fire hoses, and biodegradable tea bags, all prioritize the sustainability of their materials. This reduces consumer waste and shows innovation in providing sustainable solutions.
Start Green Business Practices
Sustainability isn’t just for your products, but for how your ecommerce business functions too. By being transparent with your aims throughout your remote workforce management, the employees and departments outside of your research and production teams can also make a difference to the sustainability of your ecommerce.
Whether manning customer service call desks or working on your web design, sustainable business impacts how varying departments also work.
At the most basic, you should have recycling policies set out for employees, clearly informing them what can be recycled and how. This is fairly easy to introduce for paper and cardboard waste, although there are also recycling initiatives for coffee pods, crisp packets, batteries, pens, and more.
These may require more effort to discover and implement a recycling policy, however, if you are producing a significant amount of waste through these products, it can be well worth the time and effort investment.
Other practices, such as moving your business online, promoting the use of electronic documents, can also reduce your office waste and increase your sustainability. Along the same lines, having your business function online allows employees to work from home, using HD conference call software, reducing commuting emissions and potentially the need for larger office spaces along with the energy they require.
Use Sustainable Packaging
As an ecommerce business, there’s no avoiding that your products will need some form of packaging to be shipped. Once the product is delivered, the majority of the packaging will be instantly binned. Reducing the quantity of packaging and ensuring it is environmentally friendly can help your business be more sustainable. It’s also in line with 64% of consumers wanting better schemes to remove packaging and plastics to build sustainable lifestyles.
Where possible, use easily recyclable materials for your packaging, or packaging that is itself made of recycled materials. Similarly, where multiple orders are made by the same customer, sending the products together with less individual packaging is an obvious and efficient solution. Alternatively, send your products with packaging that can easily be repurposed or reused. This all extends the lifecycle of your packaging, reducing the quantity of waste produced.
Within cosmetic brands and elsewhere, reward schemes for returning pots or bottles once customers have finished the product have become more common. This reduces the need for new packaging alongside reusing specifically designed packaging.
As an ecommerce business, this can be challenging to initiate but by setting customer goals and providing clear instructions through your CRM integrations, such as returning ten pots/boxes/bottles for rewards – returning packaging can be worthwhile for your customers.
Offset Shipping Emissions
Shipping is a big source of carbon emissions in your ecommerce process. You can try delivering products in bulk, as much as possible, but there will still be shipping emissions to contend with. As you can’t control where your customers deliver to and, as an expanding business, you want to encourage new customers wherever they’re located. Your best option is to look into offsetting your emissions.
Calculate your business’s shipping carbon footprint. This shows you the quantity of carbon to offset to reach net-zero emissions.
Using carbon-neutral shipping companies is an option, meaning that the shipping company offsets their carbon through sustainable initiatives. Alternatively, you can offset your carbon emissions by either creating your own initiative to combat carbon in the atmosphere or donating to existing verified carbon offsetting programs.
Carbon offset programs include planting and preserving trees worldwide, developing hydroelectric plants, investing in clean energy, and treating wastewater.
When looking at an external program, look out for third-party certification from organizations such as Gold Standard, ICROA, PAS 2060 verification, and others. This shows that these programs are meeting high standards and providing accountability for their projects.
Collaborate With Environmental Causes
Who you partner with as an ecommerce business can also reflect your sustainable choices. Collaborations offer the chance for your business to explore different ways of working sustainably, coming from different perspectives.
As an ecommerce store, this could influence your products, the discussions your employees use small business phone systems to facilitate, projects your business funds, marketing approaches, as well as the customers you attract.
From collaborating with green non-profits on projects, encouraging your existing partnerships to become more sustainable, looking out for environmental influencers, or even finding ecologically minded affiliate programs, there are a whole bunch of ways to bring sustainability into the center of your ecommerce collaborations.
The outworkings of this will be unique to those involved and what sustainable projects align with their values and brand image best.
Brands working in collaboration with environmental charities have shown the scope for how ecommerce can bring about sustainable changes. It also acts as an example to customers of ways that they can create more sustainable lives and invest time, money, and energy into environmental projects that make a difference to our climate.
Begin Your Business’s Sustainability Journey Today
Sustainability requires a consistent commitment to using your ecommerce business to protect the environment. Over time, new ideas and methods of how businesses can obtain further sustainably will be discovered, from new sources of materials to monitory of your inventory improving methods to reduce overproduction.
This list is a starting point, giving you an idea of where to begin your sustainability journey.
Ultimately, you don’t have to be a perfectly sustainable ecommerce business. Small changes and constant effort to improve are valuable. Even if you can’t act on all of our suggestions, starting with one or two will still improve your ecommerce sustainability. No matter how big or small, there’s no better time to bring sustainable practices into your business.