Why Sustainability is the Future of Ecommerce

Ecommerce has grown quite rapidly over the last few years. With the rise of the internet, computers, and phones, going shopping has gone from being associated with lengthy trips to malls to simply surfing the web for things you want to buy. Covid-19 only amplified this growth; with the whole world in lockdown, the demand for shopping without leaving the house skyrocketed. And that’s not just for trivial shopping—these days, you can buy groceries, electronics, and even your next house completely online! It’s estimated that by 2028, half of all sales will be online, through a variety of ecommerce stores.

All of this is fantastic for DTC businesses and consumers alike, but it does have an impact on the planet that can’t be ignored. In this post, we will dive into the environmental impact of an increasingly ecommerce-driven world as well as four simple ways your brand can move towards sustainability.

The Current Environmental Impact of Ecommerce

Unfortunately, ecommerce comes with a big environmental impact. In theory, shipping packages straight to doors seems more environmentally friendly than shipping them to stores that customers have to drive to—but in practice, this isn’t always true.

The greenhouse gases created from last-mile deliveries are a big contributor to this. Many customers have grown accustomed to speedy delivery and expect their packages to come within a couple of days from ordering, which comes at a price, and we’re not talking in dollars. Freight movement is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions overall, and last-mile freight is a major contributor to local air pollution, often in disadvantaged communities.

By 2030, last-mile delivery growth will increase carbon emissions globally by 30%. The myriad of cars, trucks, planes, and boats needed to ship packages around the world generates significant emissions, and expediting deliveries only adds to that.

Packaging orders to be shipped all over the world is also very resource-intensive. The packaging itself directly contributes to the environmental impact of ecommerce, creating a lot of waste in the form of boxes, mailers, fillers, and more. Each year, the amount of cardboard packaging used equates to 1 billion trees, and that statistic alone fails to account for the other types of packaging, like plastic, that are even less eco-friendly than cardboard.

How do consumers respond to ecommerce sustainability efforts?

Besides being able to help the planet, integrating sustainability into your business can help you attract new customers (and retain your current ones!). The general consumer mindset is changing; unlike their parents, younger generations are much more concerned about sustainability. Facing the effects of climate change firsthand, and with social media to quickly spread news and information, sustainability in businesses is exceedingly important to consumers.

According to Forbes, 87% of customers would buy a product with a social and environmental benefit if given the opportunity. Moreover, 92% would be more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues. This sentiment is more common among Millennials and Gen Z; when surveyed, 67.1% of millennials sometimes or always check a brand’s sustainability and ethics practices before deciding to purchase from them.

Considering the sheer number of stores available to consumers today, being the brand that cares about the planet can set you apart from other businesses and be the convincing factor for customers to buy from you.

Why should brands care about sustainability?

Millennials and Gen Z’s opinions are important to business; with Millennials alone spending almost $600 billion every year, their dollars are going to be impactful. The audience that businesses have to appeal to is changing, and quickly.

If you want to capture this large group of consumers, being outwardly eco-friendly plays an important role in attracting this audience. A survey found that 70% of Millennials say that a company’s environmental focus influences their purchase decisions. In order to win this audience, a company has to consider the values of these consumers, which in recent years have trended toward an increased focus on sustainability.

A global study reveals that consumers are four to six times more likely to purchase, protect, and champion purpose-driven companies. Making sustainability a key facet of your business offers a sense of purpose and will be important if you want to stay relevant with younger generations for years to come.

4 Ways Brands Can Integrate Sustainability

Making your brand more sustainable doesn’t require you to change your entire business model. Changes like swapping out your packaging for eco-friendly alternatives, finding new waste management solutions, or powering your offices with solar energy instead of fossil fuel energy can help make your business more eco-friendly. As long as you communicate your efforts well, customers will take note too!

Eco-friendly Packaging

While eco-friendly packaging can be more expensive than traditional options, this is something that the majority of consumers would be willing to pay for. When surveyed, 60% to 70% of consumers said they would pay more for sustainable packaging.

Sustainable packaging comes in a variety of forms; packaging made from post-consumer waste, recyclable materials, or compostable materials are a few examples of things you can consider. You can buy sustainable packaging from online stores like Ecoenclose and Arka, which offer eco-friendly options in a variety of shapes and sizes!

Sustainable production

As you develop and create new products, you might want to consider using more sustainable materials and designs. For example, instead of plastic cutlery, you might want to opt for a material like bamboo, which is a material that isn’t very resource-intensive or harmful to our planet.

Besides bamboo, concrete, reclaimed wood, and recycled steel are a few more materials you can consider using. Every brand is different, so searching for the perfect eco-friendly swap for something in your products might take time but will produce a clear result that your customers will see every time they use your product.

Bundle orders & offer slower shipping times

Because the environmental impact of shipping is so big, offering your customers slower shipping options or bundling options can help alleviate this effect. By shipping orders slower, you can package more orders in every vehicle and be more efficient when sending orders out (as opposed to prioritizing speed).

Many brands offer free shipping for their slowest shipping times, which most of the time, customers will opt for if they don’t need their order right away. You can also offer bundling deals, so customers will be inclined to buy what they need all at once, reducing the amount of total packages shipped (which means more eco-friendly shipping!). You might consider adding a note at checkout about how slower shipping times or bundled shipping options are more environmentally friendly. This will help manage customer expectations and provide additional incentive for going this route.

Install EcoCart to offer carbon neutral orders

For the greenhouse gases you can’t get rid of in shipping, consider adding EcoCart to your ecommerce store! EcoCart is a free ecommerce plugin that allows businesses and their customers to offset the greenhouse gas emissions created from shipping and manufacturing their orders.

Carbon offsetting your order means that for all of the greenhouse gases emitted from your order, an equivalent amount will be captured from the atmosphere by way of projects like forest protection or creating renewable energy that work to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere. For every order, either your brand or your customer can opt to pay a small percentage, which will go towards a carbon offsetting project of your business’s choice!

Some brands even use EcoCart to go carbon positive, meaning that the amount of carbon they offset is greater than the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they create. Christy Dawn and JuneShine are two brands that went carbon positive with EcoCart, and are able to help make a difference in our world and clearly demonstrate it to customers.

Where Can Your Brand Go Green?

Ecommerce is changing, and your brand should always be evolving too. While sustainability is a plus now, it’ll soon become a necessity in all businesses and industries. By integrating sustainability into your business model now, your brand will be ahead of the game and gain loyal customers easily.

Adding sustainability to your brand doesn’t have to be difficult. As we’ve discussed here, there are several ways you can make small changes to parts of your business model to integrate sustainability. Even if you only start with one sustainability initiative, you will be making a difference. As long as you can communicate the work you’re doing to customers effectively, your customers will appreciate your love for the environment and reward you with their business.

Special thanks to our friends at EcoCart for this guest post!