5 Best Practices For More Sustainable eCommerce That Any Store Can Apply

May 10, 2021
| by Rebecca Fox

In spite of the fact that eCommerce waste contributes significantly to the environmental crisis, here are some best practices your eCommerce store can apply to make this beautiful place we call Earth a better place for future generations.

The way you run your eCommerce store has a significant impact on the environment, and putting in place new practices can help improve the situation, whether in manufacturing processes, material choices or even return rates.

Why is Sustainability Important in eCommerce?

The negative impact of eCommerce on the environment is huge. From production to shipping to returns, every step in the eCommerce supply chain harms the environment. The negative impact ranges from carbon emissions that pollute our air to excess waste that ends up in landfills. 

While eCommerce is becoming increasingly popular, customers love brands that mirror their own values. So much so that 83% of customers consider the environment when making purchase decisions and 78% think that companies could be doing more to be environmentally friendly. 

36% of customers feel increased loyalty towards brands that offer sustainable products.

Customers are willing to change their buying habits and 72% of customers are even willing to pay a premium for sustainable products.

Given that people are increasingly choosing to buy from eco-friendly brands, taking action to be sustainable can encourage customers to choose your store over others.

5 Best Practices to Make Your Store More Sustainable

With customers increasingly interested in sustainable shopping, and eCommerce a major contributor to environmental damage, here are some best practices you can implement to make a difference.

1. Work Towards Sustainable Manufacturing

Manufacturing processes use approximately one-third of the world’s energy. Many manufacturers focus on performance while reducing costs, with little attention paid to long-term environmental impact. 

Reducing waste and water use, adjusting energy loads, and utilizing renewable resources can boost your sustainability outcomes and reduce your costs.

Other sustainability factors to consider:

  • Fair working wages and conditions for workers.
  • Single-use or high-consumption products.
  • Storage and transportation.

2. Make Smart Material Choices

Are your products themselves sustainable? In many cases, the products are the biggest culprit for environmental impact. Whether it’s the products’ lifecycle or the materials used to make the products, a lot can be improved to make your products more eco-friendly.

Consider whether your products are made from sustainable and organic sources and whether they are fast-moving, fast-consumed products (which generate a lot of waste) or products that are intended to be used long-term (which avoids waste).

Materials such as linen and hemp are great organic materials that require very little water – making them a great, eco-friendly choice for clothing. Another great alternative is using pineapple lead fibers instead of leather (yes, that’s a thing).

Pure Waste is a great example of an eCommerce business whose business model centers around reducing waste by developing and manufacturing yarns, fabrics, and clothes from recycled fibers. Through their commitment to their goal of eliminating textile waste in the world, Pure Waste is doing their bit in reducing the environmental footprint of the entire industrial sector by inspiring others to go in a more ecological direction.

Consider how you can make your products more sustainable, and maybe you’ll inspire other eCommerce stores to do the same.

3. Design Eco-Friendly Products

Products that are designed to be environmentally friendly can be more appealing to customers and more sustainable to produce. Incorporate sustainability into your product design to account for environmental impacts over the entire lifespan of your products. 

Determine how sustainable your products are by looking at factors such as energy consumption, recyclability, and hazardous substances.

You can find examples of eco-friendly product design in all sorts of products such as biodegradable furniture, compostable coffee cups, and recycled tableware, as well as clothes and shoes made out of plastic recovered from the ocean, and milk-based textiles.

Aim to create products that are multipurpose, reusable, and recyclable, that don’t require much maintenance.

4. Use Sustainable Packaging

Over 2 billion tons of waste end up in landfills worldwide every year, with packaging waste often ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The amount of plastic that is used and thrown out on a daily basis is huge, and as eCommerce merchants, there are steps you can take to make a difference.

The first step to take is to work towards eliminating the use of plastic and containers with multiple materials that are hard to separate or recycle, and reducing the amount of filler material and excessive packaging size.

A great example is Zara, which is taking active steps towards being completely plastic-free. Online orders are shipped in 100%-recycled cardboard boxes made out of boxes that were previously used in stores. Products are also not individually packaged, hugely reducing the amount of waste produced.

Reusing packaging is another way for your business to be more eco-friendly. For example, Ted Baker ships packages in cardboard boxes with a card slip on the outside. Labels can be replaced in the slip and the box itself can be reused many times. When customers return products using the original packaging, Ted Baker can easily reuse the boxes for new orders.

In your journey towards a more sustainable business model, figure out a packaging design that can best represent your brand. Sustainable packaging that emphasizes reusability can boost customer loyalty as well as reduce waste.

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5. Reduce Your Return Rates

Product returns are a major part of eCommerce, and without the right infrastructure to support the return process, our planet suffers the consequences.

Returns create 5.8 billion pounds of landfill waste and produce 16 million tons of carbon emissions a year. 

Reducing the number of product returns will help reduce the amount of waste and emissions caused by returns. 

So what actions can you take to reduce your return rates?

Reducing your return rates is as beneficial to the environment as it is to your bottom line.

Get Started on the Path to Sustainability

Sustainability is an area where every effort counts. Think of sustainability as a lens for viewing your entire business process, and not as something to check off and then forget about.

Follow the tips we’ve shared above to start on your sustainability journey. There is no right or wrong way to begin – just get started! Even a small change can make a world of difference.

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