How to Embrace Sustainable Ecommerce Practices

An upward view of a green glass building and a tree canopy illustrating sustainable business

Economic projections predict that by 2025, global ecommerce sales will exceed $7.3 trillion. While all of this is great news for business, the reality is that ecommerce has the potential to be terrible for the planet. Ecommerce generates vast amounts of packaging and plastic waste that winds up in landfills and takes thousands of years to break down. The various modes of shipping transportation produce dangerous greenhouse gas emissions that contribute greatly to air pollution. Ultimately, every ecommerce purchase has the potential to negatively impact the environment and customers know it. Calls for sustainable ecommerce are growing louder.

Ecommerce Brands Answer the Call

The wasteful tactics of some ecommerce brands have not gone unnoticed by a buying public that is increasingly concerned about the state of the planet. Today’s eco-conscious consumers demand that the brands they endorse share their environmental concerns. In response, online brands have stepped up to meet this challenge by investing in sustainable ecommerce practices that are good for business and the planet.

What Is Sustainable Ecommerce?

Sustainable ecommerce is when online brands provide their customers with more eco-friendly products and practices while taking steps to reduce their own carbon footprints. The goal of sustainable ecommerce is to create a balance between the environment, society and economics.

Eco-Conscious Consumers Want Sustainable Ecommerce Brands

Since the advent of the pandemic, sustainability-minded consumers have become increasingly aware of and concerned about environmental issues. In fact, 90% of consumers say they are equally or more concerned with environmental issues now compared to before the pandemic. 

These concerns have prompted a shift in online shopping trends and purchasing decisions. Consumers are now more likely to buy from brands that embrace eco-friendly practices. Nearly three-quarters of consumers are actively purchasing more environmentally friendly products than they did five years ago. Millennials and Gen Z shoppers in particular are leading this charge.

The bottom line is today’s consumers increasingly care about an ecommerce brand’s impact on the planet. In order to stay competitive, online brands not only need to commit to sustainable ecommerce practices but make them a part of their brand ethos.

The Benefits of Going Green

In today’s online marketplace, it is important that DTC brands embrace sustainable ecommerce practices designed to reduce their carbon footprint. In addition to being the right thing to do, becoming more sustainable can be a smart business decision. 

Aligning brand philosophies with today’s environmental and social values can be a powerful business strategy. Creating and nurturing these emotional connections can grow strong brand loyalty and increase customer lifetime value. Also, since consumers are willing to pay more to help the environment, going green can also boost a brand’s profits. Brands that embrace sustainable practices can also take advantage of attractive tax incentives. Other ways going green can benefit DTC online brands include:

  • Increases sales
  • Captures a growing market
  • Impacts global and local communities
  • Boosts brand image
  • Attracts new customers
  • Increases conversion rates

5 Steps Toward Sustainable Ecommerce

There are many actionable steps online brands can take to reduce their carbon footprint without hurting the bottom line. In fact, going green might even improve it. Whether starting small or going all in, here are a few steps brands can take to become more sustainable ecommerce businesses.

A photo of two men in a warehouse surrounded by cardboard boxes

Reduce Packaging

Ecommerce can potentially generate tons of needless packaging waste. A significant portion of this packaging ends up in landfills and represents 65% of all household trash in the U.S. Approximately one-third of the content of landfills is made up of packaging material that could have been recycled. Making a concerted effort to invest in sustainable packaging is one way online brands can reduce their carbon footprint. 

For starters, brands can conduct a packaging audit to ensure they are not including any unnecessary layers that could be eliminated. Buying boxes in more sizes to fit smaller items can also reduce packaging, as smaller containers cut down on filler. Speaking of which, recyclable paper is a great substitute for bubble wrap or Styrofoam packing peanuts. But one of the best ways brands can reduce packaging waste is by investing in alternative means of sustainable materials.

Switch to Sustainable Packaging Materials

Recyclable, biodegradable and compostable packaging are becoming increasingly popular options for ecommerce brands looking to be more eco-responsible. By using alternative packaging options, online brands also convey that sustainability is important to them. This is a message that is sure to resonate with today’s eco-conscious consumers. The most commonly used options are:

  • Recyclable packaging made up of materials that can be recycled or have already been recycled. Think corrugated cardboard or mailers that were created from used paper or plastic. 
  • Biodegradable packaging made from materials that can be decomposed by microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and algae. Cardboard, paper and bio-based plastics are the most commonly used forms of biodegradable packaging. 
  • Compostable packaging made from a combination of recycled natural materials and organic, plant-based virgin substances. Cardboard boxes, gardening twine, moulded wood pallets, wood wool and paper bubble wrap are all examples of fully compostable packaging. 

ecommerce brands can also include website information educating customers on where they can find local recycling sites or the basics of composting.

Discourage Returns and Exchanges

Returns and exchanges eat up a lot of transportation emissions, shipping expenses and packaging waste. However, brands can take initiatives designed to discourage customers from returning or exchanging items.

Brands can provide detailed product descriptions, size guides, product materials and high-quality photos to let customers know exactly what they will receive. This type of clarity greatly reduces the likelihood of returns. Making return policies crystal clear and packing and shipping items securely are also great steps in avoiding returns and exchanges. 

Brands can also implement policies that inhibit customers from making large orders with the expectation of returning some of the products they receive. For instance, brands can allow just one order of a given apparel item at a time instead of allowing orders in multiple sizes.

Embrace Eco-friendly Shipping Practices

Another of the harsh truths of ecommerce is that packages need to be shipped through some mode of transportation. The result is an increase in carbon pollution from shipping transportation. In fact, freight movement is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, with last-mile freight a major contributor to air pollution.

One of the simplest ways ecommerce brands can reduce their environmental impact is to embrace sustainable shipping processes. Many online brands overlook this basic concept, mainly because they focus on making sure the products themselves are environmentally friendly. This can include partnering with carbon-neutral shipping companies to ship items in bulk to one central processing station.

Eliminate Single-Use Plastics

Single-use plastics are a major contributor to waste, pollution and climate change. About 150 million tons of single-use plastics are produced globally each year, and almost all of it is dumped in a landfill or at sea.

Eco-conscious brands need to find ways to reduce single-use plastics throughout their supply chain (or even better, eliminate them entirely). This could mean rethinking the practice of packaging individual items in their own bag or container. Brands now have the option of using biodegradable bags or those made from recycled or reusable materials. 

In the past few years, the DTC ecommerce beauty industry has taken great strides in embracing recyclable, refillable and reusable packaging. Beauty giant L’Oréal in particular has become an industry frontrunner in putting sustainability at the centre of their business ethos. The company has even pledged to become fully sustainable by 2030. Major beauty brands like The Body Shop, L’Occitane, Credo Beauty and Estée Lauder have also pledged to eliminate single-use plastics.

To Be Truly Sustainable, Brands Need to Walk Their Talk

Caring about the environment is now a shared responsibility for all businesses, especially those in ecommerce where waste is a major problem. But for online businesses to truly embrace sustainable ecommerce, they must make being green a part of their brand ethos. They need to let their customers know that they are fully committed to helping the environment. Brands cannot pay lip service to their eco-savvy customers; they need to walk their talk. 

Fortunately, the majority of ecommerce brands are doing just that. In the long run, adapting sustainable ecommerce practices and philosophies can be a win for DTC online brands, their customers and the planet. 

ESW is helping brands all over the world take steps toward sustainability. Our solutions make it easier than ever for ecommerce brands to resell discontinued merchandise or host liquidation sales events, solving pain points related to cybersecurity, payment processing, fraud protection, and more. Contact us today to learn more.