The conversation around sustainability within businesses around the world has become unignorable. Finding sustainable business models for E-Commerce companies, as well as brick-and-mortar businesses is becoming increasingly popular, and if you don’t join the search, you’ll likely be left behind.
Sustainability is a consumer trend that isn’t going to disappear, and consumers are focusing their efforts on finding brands that reflect their own morals and views of the world.
Understanding how to make your business eco-friendlier is no simple task. What starts out as adding a few recycling bins to the office, quickly moves into reassessing the supply chain, water waste, and product materials. There is so much to consider when looking at an eco-friendly business strategy, and nobody is expecting you to fix everything overnight.
In this article, we’ll show you just a few things to consider when auditing your business for a more sustainable process. Once you’ve got an idea of the things you think fit into your company, you can set long term goals for improvement with strict deadlines. From this, company culture can develop, and you can even begin to market the changes you’re making for a better future.
Review Your Supply Chain
A sustainable business model starts way back at your supply chain. If you manufacture products yourself, this should be easy. But if you are a distributor, or source products from further afield, you will need to discuss improving processes with your supply chain to be more environmentally friendly.
Think about it; if your business is based in the US, but your products are produced in China, you’ve had to pay for shipping before your customer has even placed an order. This not only costs you but the environment, too, as delivery of goods will be via air or sea.
Use manufacturers on your continent to significantly reduce the environmental cost of getting your products to your warehouse.
Locally Sourced Materials
Similarly, even if your manufacturer is based further afield, where are their materials coming from? Are they also coming from somewhere else?
Work with your supply chain to break down every element of manufacturing to highlight the areas of highest concern. Find ways to use materials to hand or which can be produced locally will cut emission costs from the start.
For plastics and other popular materials, huge amounts of energy, chemicals, and water are required. Sustainability can only be achieved if you understand where chemical runoff and water waste is going. Is there a way to re-use this?
Is your product itself sustainable? In most cases, it’s the product that is the biggest culprit for your impact on the environment. Whether it’s the product’s lifecycle, or the materials used to make the product, a lot can be improved to make your inventory eco-friendlier.
Durable but Easy to Repair
By improving the durability of your product, you ensure your customers don’t need to keep rebuying products from yourself or competitors. This reduces the need for your manufacturers to produce more and therefore prevents more production waste. Take on some rigorous product testing to see where the flaws and faults of your product really lie.
But, even the most durable of products can break… so make your product easy to fix. Provide customers with tutorials and extra screws/materials to fix the product themselves. This solution is win-win: You can reduce waste as well as show your customers that you’re a brand that listens.
Considerate Material Choices
Think about the materials you use for each component of your product. Is it necessary to use so many different materials? Which could be improved for sustainability? Materials such as linen and hemp for clothing are great organic material choices that require very little water – making them a great, eco-friendly choice. Alternatively, instead of using polyester, opt for recycled plastic.
Anything with a plastic cover or component could likely be made from recycled plastics and although the original material isn’t sustainable, recycling the material into something new is.
Material choices are equally as important when it comes to the end of your product’s lifecycle. Is your product recyclable? Does it need to be taken apart to dispose of? Could it have an additional use? Provide your customers with clear instructions for throwing away their product will improve the chances of the buyer recycling it correctly.
If your products come in a series of colors and sizes, stock management can quickly get out of hand. Holding stock not only costs more for your business but also requires electricity to heat and light the warehouse.
If you manufacture your own products or use local suppliers, consider producing your products on demand. That way, there is no stock to store and no waste at the end of the season.
This isn’t possible for every business, of course, but it’s key to avoid falling into the fast-fashion trap where businesses have been known to burn the end of life stock. Use old stock for giveaways, sales, or donate it to charity.
Packaging & Delivery
The demand for instantaneous delivery has had a huge impact on the environment, as we all know, but it’s not just the mode of transport that needs to be considered.
Let’s face it, it’s very unlikely that the customer actually needs the product tomorrow. By being clear about your delivery times upfront, your customers will have to plan their order to allow plenty of time for it to be delivered.
Avoid Mixed Materials
Both plastic and paper are standard packaging materials, but the mixture of the two can create confusion for customers when it comes to disposing of it.
First, make sure all packaging can be recycled, and avoid using too many materials. Thin plastic wrap and paper are the most eco-friendly. You can even get eco-friendly labels for your parcels.
Adapt Your Returns
In an ideal world, all returns would be avoided. Returns not only cost your business a lot, but they also add more emissions and waste to the world. If your customer does need to return something, encourage them to use the same packaging the product was delivered to them in and provide return labels.
You can also integrate a return resolving system like ReturnGO into your pre-existing return policy. ReturnGO will offer your customer store credits to keep the item they’re looking to return. The system will work to find the best solution for your customer and will provide them with options to keep the item, donate it to charity or return it at a later date. You avoid the cost of returns, and no additional shipping has to take place.
In order to make your business truly sustainable, you’ll need to build a culture within the company. With everyone on board, you’ll be able to do so much more.
Encourage staff to carpool or create a cycle to work scheme. Add recycling bins for paper and plastics, and remove disposable cups, cutlery, and other kitchenware.
One thing that’s easy to implement for an E-Commerce business? Going paperless. While bricks-and-mortar will always have the burden of receipts, or invoices, and other physical paperwork, E-Commerce businesses are typically paperless to start with. But if you’ve found your business slowly becoming reliant on paper and notes, use an in-cloud workspace to motivate people to keep their notes and workings on the computer.
Lastly, once you’ve done an in-depth audit of your business, make sure to spread the word! Be honest with your customers, and show the improvements you plan to make – you’ll find their loyalty will grow. Remember, nobody is expecting things to be fixed overnight. But a business trying to improve will always be favored over those ignoring the problem.