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8 tips on how to make ecommerce retail more sustainable

Before we plough into this article, let's define sustainability in a business context. It is when a company seeks: "to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (Bruntland Commission, Our Common Future, 1987). So how do you take that and make your ecommerce retail business more sustainable? There are three dimensions of Sustainability

  • Environmental sustainability: the ongoing preservation of essential ecosystems and their functions.
  • Economic sustainability: the ongoing ability of an economic system to provide for all human needs.
  • Social sustainability: the ongoing ability of communities to provide for the wellbeing of all their members.

So how do you make Ecommerce retail more sustainable?

  • Create Value: for both the business and society
  • Create Balance: of conflicting stakeholder interests and their moral standards
  • Take Accountability: for actions and consequences
  • Be Transparent: to outside observers

This means, looking at your product (or service). Durability, longevity, purpose and reusability must all pass the sustainability test. Also the packaging, how it’s created, designed or manufactured also contribute to the ways you make Ecommerce retail more sustainable? Moreover the logistics, shipping and operations associated with your business can have a huge influence on sustainability too.

Here's a fact for you

Online retail outfits use 30% less energy than traditional retail operations, according to a study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University. So well done to all the online only retailers out there. Can you do more though? How could you make make ecommerce retail more sustainable?

How to make make ecommerce retail more sustainable? Simple actions, tools and examples

1. Recycling policies

There are some easy steps that businesses can take to lower their wastage levels on a daily basis. The quickest solution is to invest in recycling bins in the office for paper waste, plastic, drinks cans, cartridges, toners and glass. A useful tip is to remove individual bins from under staff members’ desks and just have single recycling and waste points. Workers will be forced to break the habit of just throwing things away without thinking properly about how they dispose of their waste. Most of you do it at home, so why not at the office?

Check out this recycling guide

This website is full of tips and gadgets that can help you adopt or improve your office recycling policy.

Recycling policy Sustainability
Recycling policy Sustainability

2. The digital office

Developments in technology are also helping to lower the amount of paper that’s used, and as a result aiding businesses in their quest to become more environmentally friendly. For example, by using cloud computing services such as Dropbox, businesses can reduce the amount of paper they are using by storing documents and forms digitally. Information can be safely saved and backed up remotely which can then be accessed by employees wherever they are. By eliminating the need for physical paperwork, this kind of file sharing helps to reduce business costs and improve productivity.

Check out this Greener office website

It's a tool to help you get a greener office by making some simple adjustments.

3. Reduce energy waste

Reducing the amount of energy that is used in the workplace also goes a long way to reducing a company’s carbon footprint. Making simple changes such as turning off equipment when not in use, investing in low energy lighting and reducing the temperature in the office can significantly lower energy bills and subsequently make a business more energy efficient.

If you want to take your concern about the environment and energy waste a step further, then Good Energy can help you reach your green goal. Good Energy is a British renewable energy company helping home and businesses to be part of a more sustainable approach using 100% renewable electricity. It costs a certain amount but you can get an easy quote on their website.

Good Energy- a British renewable energy company Slogan
Good Energy- a British renewable energy company Slogan

4. Reduce Packaging

I know it's hard, but try and deliver products in less packaging. I don't know about you but in the past year I can remember several times when I received an Amazon order, which had so much unnecessary packaging in it, it shocked me. Think of the scale at which packaging waste is generated across Amazon's worldwide logistics network. Yikes!

So try and Re-use packaging, especially cushioning materials and return packaging to local shipping stores and recycle corrugated and other materials, including polyethylene films.

I know that many ecommerce stores make a big deal of the beautiful packaging their products are delivered in. I'm not saying scrap that, just think about how you can deliver the same beautiful experience with less physical material.

Leading example: Café Direct

The company claims itself as “UK’s first and largest 100% Fairtrade hot drinks brand”. They encourage their consumers to recycle their products as much as possible by providing a chart indicating what the packaging is made from and what to do with it.

Café Direct Transparency FairTrade
Café Direct Transparency FairTrade

5. Create an offset service charge option at the checkout

An effective way to offset some of the associated footprints accumulated from the creation and purchase of your product is by providing online shoppers with an optional offset charge. Be sure to choose a reputable carbon offset project to disperse the funds raised. This is a great way to show customers that your business is committed to making an impact alongside them.

For exampleCo2stats.com greens your website traffic by offering a widget which if you sign up for, which  certifies your website as “environmentally friendly”. Co2Stats monitors how much electricity is involved to power your site and offsets the amount of carbon involved in keeping your website running. The calculations are in depth and account for server usage, locations of your visitors, computer types, window and monitor sizes, local fuel mixes, download sizes and times. The company adds up the data of every website that has signed up for a Co2stats widget and purchases Green-E certified Renewable Energy Certificates every month. The certificates offset the CO2 footprint of the websites that contain the Co2stats widget. The companies sponsoring Co2stats are Native Energy and Sustainable Travel International.

Greencertified site
Greencertified site

6. Embrace the lessons learnt and best practices of the circular economy

Consider providing an e-commerce marketplace for customers to resell their used merchandise from your store, sell repair kits (if applicable), blog about how to keep products looking (and feeling) new, provide online donation giveback incentives and offer (up)(re)cycling programs. Patagonia, for instance, has done many of these things well.

The famous company created several campaigns based on circular economy. The worn and wear program encourages people to share the stories they lived while wearing Patagonia’s clothes: a clever marketing campaign promoting the longevity of Patagonia products life-cycle. Their iFixit manuals guide customers on how to take care and repair Patagonia products so they can last as long as possible.

patagonia ifixit care guides
patagonia ifixit care guides

7. Scale your impact

Doing something really sustainable? Fantastic! Now scale it into something larger and resist the urge to be secretive of your sustainable innovations.

Instead, make it publicly known that you’re committed to making a difference and allow competitors and other businesses to reap the sustainability benefits of your idea. This will position you as a pioneer and give you kudos among your own customers.

A business focused on making a social and environmental impact must find ways to scale-up beyond the product itself. The website, and more specifically the e-commerce site, is a great way to branch out beyond the product and make that next step in sustainability.

Example: Veev

This sustainable distillery has a slogan “A better way to drink™” and strives to advertise it. They use only wind powered electricity to manufacture their all-natural ingredients, and donate 1% toplines sales to rainforest preservation.

veev logo a better way to drink sustainability
veev logo a better way to drink sustainability

8. Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Shipping?

In a perfect world, every business and all shipping companies would consider the environment before considering profit, yet this is obviously not the case. However, there are some businesses and shipping companies that do, which is evident by efforts like the Sustainability Shipping Initiative (SSI) and the companies that incorporate SSI into their supply chain. One of the best ways for an emerging e-commerce venture to generate an environmentally sustainable business is to utilize an SSI affiliated company to meet your e-commerce shipping needs. Numerous companies are currently involved in the SSI, including key industry players such as Maersk Line, Cargill, Gearbulk and Bunge, among others.

Ultimately, the eco-minded entrepreneur should aim to profit within a lucrative sector, while also making wise and conscious choices to be on the right side of collaborative action for a sustainable future.

If you have any sustainable tips you'd like to share with us then get in touch using the comments below.