The Ultimate Guide to Sustainable eCommerce Returns
February 15, 2023
by Rebecca Fox

Sustainable eCommerce returns can help reduce the environmental impact of returns. Take steps to make your returns more sustainable, appeal to eco-conscious customers, and build trust with your audience. 

Whether you’re just starting to think about sustainability or you’re looking to take your efforts to the next level, this guide is for you. Learn about ways you can make your returns process more sustainable, from reducing packaging waste to shipping returns in bulk, offering in-store returns, or reselling returned products. 

In this guide, you’ll find tips for how to become a more sustainable business, how to communicate your sustainability efforts to your customers, and examples of eCommerce stores that have implemented sustainable returns strategies.

Table of Contents

The Importance of Sustainability in eCommerce Returns

Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue in the world of eCommerce. With the rise of eCommerce, the number of returns has grown significantly, and this has led to an increase in the environmental impact of returns. 

From transportation emissions to natural resource depletion and landfill waste, eCommerce returns have a significant impact on the environment.

Meanwhile, customers are becoming more eco-conscious, and are increasingly looking for more sustainable shopping options. 78% of customers say a business’s environmental practices influence their buying decisions – customers want to know that the stores they buy from are committed to working towards a more sustainable future. 

The Environmental Cost of Returns

Returns cause significant environmental damage due to transportation, packaging, and processing, which cause carbon emissions and waste.

Products that can’t be resold are often discarded, which adds to waste and natural resource consumption. Returns generate billions of pounds of landfill waste and create huge amounts of carbon emissions. 

  • Carbon Emissions – The transportation of returned products can generate significant carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change and pollute the environment.
  • Waste – Returns can generate large amounts of waste, both in packaging materials and discarded products that cannot be resold, putting a strain on landfills and natural resources.
  • Energy Consumption – Return processing requires energy and resources, such as electricity and water, which adds to consumption and environmental impact.

By understanding the environmental damage caused by returns and taking steps to minimize that impact, a more sustainable future can be achieved.

Customers Want Sustainable Shopping Options

Customers are becoming increasingly eco-conscious and looking for ways to make more sustainable shopping choices, and they seek out online stores that share their values.

Environmental awareness has risen to the point where 72% of customers are willing to pay more for sustainable products and are more likely to buy from stores that are committed to sustainability. 

Customers are looking for clear and transparent information about the environmental impact of products and how stores are working to mitigate it. By clearly communicating your sustainability efforts you can build customer trust, set yourself apart from your competitors, and increase customer retention.

How to Make Your Returns More Sustainable in 5 Steps

Use this 5-step process to identify areas for improvement and take action towards a more sustainable future. 

From assessing your current returns process and setting goals to implementing a sustainable returns process and monitoring the results, these steps will help you reduce the environmental impact of your returns while aligning with your business objectives and customer expectations.

Are you ready to make your returns more sustainable? Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Evaluate Your Current Practices

The first step towards improving your store’s sustainability is to take a look at your current returns process and see where you can cut down on waste and be more eco-friendly. 

How to Measure Your Level of Sustainability

Measuring the sustainability of your eCommerce returns process can be a complex task, but there are a few key areas you can focus on to get a sense of how sustainable your current process is.

  • Resource consumption – One key aspect of sustainability is the impact that your returns process has on natural resources. This includes the energy and water used to process returns, as well as the materials used to package and transport them. 

You can measure resource consumption by tracking the amount of energy, water, and materials used during the returns process, and comparing it to industry benchmarks or to your own past performance.

  • Waste generation – Another important aspect of sustainability is the amount of waste that is generated during the returns process. This can include packaging materials, damaged or defective products, and other waste. 
  • Carbon emissions – Return shipping can also have a significant impact on the environment, as it often involves shipping products long distances. 

Tracking the distance your returns are shipped and the mode of transportation used, and then calculating the carbon emissions resulting from those, can help you determine the carbon footprint of your returns process.

  • Efficiency – Evaluate how efficient your eCommerce returns process is. You can address bottlenecks in the return process by tracking your return processing time, return rates, and the cost of handling returns.

Evaluating your current returns process can help you determine what areas your store can focus on to make its returns process more sustainable.

“Our eCommerce store evaluates our returns process in terms of sustainability by measuring how much of the returns process can be reused or recycled. We track the amount of materials used in packaging and shipping, the number of returns that are successfully reused or recycled, and the amount of energy consumed in the returns process. 
Additionally, we measure customer feedback and satisfaction to ensure that our returns process is easy and efficient for customers. Through this data, we can identify areas for improvement and make changes to be more sustainable.”

Umit Kemal, MD and Manager, DK Klinik
www.en.dk-klinik.com.tr

Step 2: Set Sustainability Goals

It’s time to start planning your sustainable returns process. In order to do that, you’ll need to decide what you’re going to focus on and then set measurable goals accordingly.

Planning out your approach is important to help you to make the most of your efforts and achieve the best results while avoiding potential roadblocks and ensuring that your sustainability efforts are efficient and effective.

Decide What You’re Going to Focus On

To plan your sustainability goals, decide what you want to focus on first.

There are many different aspects of the returns process that you could address, such as packaging sustainability, return shipping emissions, return rates, and what happens to returned products. Rather than trying to tackle all of these areas at once, it can be helpful to start by focusing on just one or two areas and working on making those more sustainable. 

By taking a step-by-step approach, you can keep from overwhelming yourself and your team, and build momentum and success as you go. After making improvements in one area, you can move on to other areas and keep improving your returns process.

Some of the areas you can focus on are packaging, return shipping, return rates, and returned items. Choose the areas of your store in which you want to be more sustainable and set goals accordingly.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the areas in which your store could focus on sustainability, why they’re important, and how they can be improved.

Eco-Friendly Packaging

Packaging is one area you can focus on in your sustainability goals. Using less material and adopting eco-friendly alternatives can reduce your environmental impact and appeal to customers who value sustainability.

Improving the sustainability of your packaging is important for a few reasons:

  • Packaging waste – A major reason for focusing on sustainable packaging is to minimize packaging waste. Returns often generate a lot of packaging materials that end up in landfills. 

Use eco-friendly packaging materials and designs to reduce waste generated during returns.

  • Shipping efficiency – Another reason to focus on packaging is to make the shipping process more efficient. By using lightweight, compact packaging, you can reduce the amount of fuel required to ship returns and exchanges, thus reducing your carbon footprint.

Additionally, reducing the number of boxes on each truck by consolidating orders reduces transportation emissions.

How to Make Your Packaging More Sustainable

When looking to use more sustainable packaging, it’s important to consider the materials that you use and the products they are best suited to. 

Make sure that your packaging is durable and will last for a long time, and consider how it can be recycled and reused.

Take into account the environmental impact of the packaging, including emissions, energy use, and toxicity. 

Taking these factors into consideration will help you choose the most effective and sustainable packaging for your products.

To make your packaging more sustainable, consider using:

  • Recyclable materials – Choose packaging materials that can be easily recycled, such as cardboard, paper, or corrugated plastic.

Recycling plastics or cardboard gives them another life, reducing the amount of waste generated by landfills, decreasing landfill waste, and preventing pollution.

  • Reusable packaging Invest in packaging materials that can be reused, such as sturdy boxes or resealable mailers.

Using reusable packaging can make returns more sustainable since customers can easily repackage a product and return it instead of having to find new packaging.

  • Biodegradable materials – Use compostable materials made from organic materials that break down naturally over time and do not release harmful chemicals.

A popular type of biodegradable packaging is bioplastics, which are plastics made from renewable resources. Bioplastics help reduce fossil fuel use for plastic production and are made from natural materials such as corn, wood, algae, and sugarcane. 

  • Less packaging – Reduce the use of packaging whenever possible. Avoid the use of excess packing materials such as bubble wrap, Styrofoam, and other single-use materials. 

Use materials such as cardboard, paper, and reusable containers, and consolidate orders into fewer packages to reduce waste and create a more eco-friendly return process. 

By improving the sustainability of your packaging, your store can demonstrate its commitment to sustainability and make a positive impact on the environment.

“At our online store, we try to be as eco-friendly as possible. We minimize our usage of excess packaging and ship in bulk whenever possible. We also make use of a large box that can be reused for several shipments. This allows us to lower our carbon footprint and pass on the savings to our customers.” 

Henffrey M. Muthama, Head of Marketing, Ledask
www.ledask.com

Sustainable Return Shipping

You can focus your efforts on sustainable return shipping by reducing carbon emissions associated with the transportation of returned products.

The environmental impact of return shipping can be reduced in a few ways:

Offset Your Carbon Emissions

Offset your carbon emissions from return shipping by investing in renewable energy and reforestation projects. 

Carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for your store’s carbon emissions by investing in projects that remove or reduce an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

There are a few ways in which you can offset your carbon emissions:

  • Purchase carbon offset credits – When customers initiate a return, you can offer them the option of purchasing carbon offset credits to offset their return shipping carbon emissions.
  • Use a sustainable shipping provider – Work with a shipping provider that reduces the carbon emissions from transportation through carbon credits, consolidated delivery routes, green delivery vehicles, or other sustainability initiatives.
  • Invest in sustainable infrastructure – Invest in sustainable infrastructure that enables eco-friendly return shipping, such as using electric vehicles instead of gasoline or diesel cars, using clean energy for shipping, and using biodegradable packaging.

Make sure to choose offset providers who adhere to international standards and whose projects contribute to sustainable development. By offsetting the carbon emissions caused by return shipping, you can reduce the environmental impact of your returns process and become more sustainable.

Ship in Bulk

One strategy you can use to reduce the environmental impact of your eCommerce returns is to ship returns in bulk. Consolidated returns reduce the number of individual shipments and associated transportation emissions. 

ReturnGO’s integration with Happy Returns enables you to have customers bring their returns to a Return Bar drop-off location, where multiple returns are consolidated and shipped back to your warehouse all at once. This reduces the number of shipments and helps lower the overall carbon footprint of your returns process.

In addition to reducing the environmental impact, shipping returned products in bulk can also reduce your operational costs. This can be a great opportunity to save money and be more sustainable at the same time.

Have Customers Keep or Donate Items

In most cases, you probably want to get back returned items so that you can restock and resell them. However, in some circumstances such as low-value or damaged products, it may be more cost-effective and eco-friendly to offer a returnless refund. 

A returnless refund is when customers don’t have to return the item to get a refund or replacement, and they keep or donate the item instead.

Having customers keep or donate returned items instead of shipping them back is a great way to make returns more convenient for customers while reducing your return handling costs and the environmental impact of returns.

Returnless refunds are becoming more popular as online stores look to reduce return costs and increase sustainability. Many leading eCommerce stores, including Amazon, Target, and Walmart offer returnless refunds, and more and more are following suit. 

Offering returnless refunds can be valuable for several reasons:

  • Reduces transportation emissions When customers keep or donate returned items instead of shipping them back, it reduces the need for transportation and the associated emissions, as the items do not have to be shipped back to your warehouse.
  • Decreases waste – Having customers keep or donate items reduces the amount of waste associated with returns. When items are donated, it gives them a second life and keeps them out of landfills. 
  • Reduces costs – Shipping items back can be costly for the business and customer. By having customers keep or donate items instead, you can save on transportation and return handling costs.
  • Builds customer loyalty – By giving customers the option to keep or donate returned items, your store can build loyalty because customers feel like their return is sustainable and has a positive impact on the community.

Encouraging customers to keep and donate items instead of shipping them back can lead to a more sustainable and eco-friendly return process.

Implement a “Buy Online, Return In-Store” Policy

Have customers return online orders to physical store locations instead of shipping them back. By doing so, the emissions associated with returning products are reduced.

A “buy online, return in-store” policy is a strategy that enables customers to purchase items online and return them to a physical store location. 

By returning items in-store, customers reduce their carbon footprint associated with transportation, as there’s no need for shipping. 

As a bonus, when customers return items in-store they can bring back the items back with the original packaging and tags, which reduces packaging waste from additional packaging.

Use Eco-Friendly Shipping Methods

Reduce carbon emissions by using more energy-efficient shipping methods, such as ground shipping instead of air shipping.

The use of ground shipping instead of air shipping can significantly reduce carbon emissions. Since ground shipping is often more energy-efficient and consumes less fuel, the carbon emissions per package are lower. 

Return shipping carbon emissions can also be significantly reduced by using electric or hybrid delivery vehicles as opposed to traditional gas-powered ones.

When choosing a return shipping method, it’s important to consider the trade-offs involved, such as delivery time, cost, and the types of products being shipped.

Use On-Demand Return Shipping Labels

Take advantage of technology such as on-demand printing of return shipping labels to minimize waste and ensure that accurate information is included on the label. 

Offering on-demand pre-paid return shipping labels is a great strategy that can help make the returns process more sustainable by having customers print out their own return shipping labels as needed instead of including a pre-printed label with every order.

By having customers print out their own return shipping labels, you can reduce the number of pre-printed labels that are shipped to customers who don’t need to make a return. 

You can use ReturnGO to generate pre-paid return shipping labels. When a return request is approved, the customer receives an email with a pre-paid return shipping label they can print out, attach to their package, and ship back.

Taking steps to make return shipping more sustainable will help you make your return process more efficient, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

Return Rates

High return rates can negatively impact the sustainability of your store, as they contribute to more transportation emissions.

Here are a few ways to reduce return rates and make your store more sustainable:

Provide Detailed Product Descriptions

One of the most common reasons for returns is that the product received does not match the product described or shown online. 

By providing accurate and detailed product descriptions you can help reduce the number of returns that happen due to miscommunications.

Product descriptions should contain information about the product’s features and benefits, as well as answers to common questions.

Make sure product descriptions include:

  • Descriptive product title to hook your audience, clearly stating what the product is.
  • Detailed paragraph that explains and tells a short story about the benefits of the product.
  • Bulleted list of technical product features.

It’s important to clearly describe your products, including the materials they’re made of, how they’re packaged, what to expect of the fit, and how long shipping will take.

Write a Clear Return Policy

Having a clear and easy-to-understand return policy can help reduce the number of returns by setting customer expectations and providing a straightforward process for returning items.

Your return policy should clearly answer questions such as: 

  • How long do customers have to return items?
  • What condition do items need to be in?
  • Do you charge any fees for returns?
  • What steps do customers need to take to request a return?
  • What types of returns do you offer?

Encourage Customer Feedback

Collect customer feedback to identify and address issues with your products or website that may be leading to a high return rate.

Sending customers an email survey after a purchase or asking them to leave a review on your site can provide valuable insight into the shopping experience and product quality.

Provide Size Charts and Fit Guides

Provide size charts and fit guides to help customers choose the correct size and reduce the number of returns due to wrong sizing.

In categories such as clothing, sizing issues are often a major contributing factor to returns. Reduce your return rates due to sizing issues by offering clear and easy-to-use sizing charts and guides so that customers are more confident in their purchases.

Show High-Quality Product Images

Multiple high-quality images of the products from different angles can help customers get a better sense of what they’re buying.

When customers can see detailed and accurate images of a product, they can be more confident about their purchasing decision, which can reduce the likelihood of items being returned due to misunderstandings. 

Analyze Return Data 

Use a tool like ReturnGO to analyze your return data to identify trends and patterns in the products that are being returned and return reasons. 

Analyzing your return data can help you identify areas to improve, such as tweaking your return policy or updating product descriptions, which can reduce your return rates and make your store more sustainable.

Returned Items

One of the biggest challenges in eCommerce is figuring out what to do with returned items, as they can take up warehouse space and contribute to landfill waste. 

The best way to handle your returned items sustainably is to repurpose them instead of letting them go to waste.

The three “R”s of sustainable management of returned items are:

1. Resell 

Reselling your returned products enables you to make money on otherwise wasted inventory and increases sustainability since products are reused rather than discarded. 

Two of the simplest strategies for reselling your returned products are in a resale section of your site or through a third-party reCommerce platform. 

By reselling returned items, you can recoup some of the cost, as well as offer these items at a lower price to customers.

2. Refurbish 

Refurbishing returned items can extend their life, reduce waste, and save money.

Inspect, clean, and test returned items to ensure that they are in good working order and then resell them as “refurbished.” 

Refurbishing returned items is an effective way to reduce the amount of returned items that go to landfills.

3. Recycle 

Some returned items may not be in a condition to resell or donate, but many materials can be recycled, reducing the environmental impact of these items. 

You can recycle your store’s returned items by finding a local recycling facility that accepts the types of materials they’re made of, or by working with a recycling company that specializes in returned items.

Recycling returned items’ materials and repurposing them for new products can reduce waste and the environmental impact of returns.

Ultimately, how you handle returned items depends on your products and business. Consider all your options and pick the one you see as most sustainable, cost-effective, and manageable for your store.

Set Measurable Goals

Establish measurable goals based on the areas you decided to focus on first. Setting specific, measurable goals will enable you to track your progress and adjust accordingly.

Your sustainability goals should be aligned with your overall business objectives and be challenging but achievable. 

SMART goals are a widely used framework for setting and achieving goals. The acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. 

Using SMART goals can help to ensure that your goals are clear, achievable, and effective, which can in turn increase the chances of success, and it can help to focus efforts and resources, establish priorities, and measure progress.

Specific – Goals should be clear and specific, stating exactly what is to be accomplished.

Measurable – Goals should be quantifiable, so progress can be tracked.

Achievable – Goals should be realistic and achievable, given the resources and constraints.

Relevant – Goals should be relevant to your industry and business objectives.

Time-bound – Goals should have clear deadlines for completion.

To set SMART goals for your sustainability efforts, follow these steps:

1. Decide which areas of your returns process you want to improve, such as increasing the use of sustainable shipping methods or reducing packaging waste.

2. Define what you want to achieve in each area. Put together specific and realistic targets for each goal. 

3. Plan how you’ll achieve this goal, and determine what steps you need to take.

4. Set a timeframe for achieving your goal, such as by the end of the next quarter or the next year.

Setting measurable goals will help you keep track of your progress and ensure that your sustainability efforts are having the desired impact. This will enable you to stay on track to achieve your sustainability goals by making any necessary adjustments.

“Our goal-setting process involves mapping out specific objectives, timelines, and resources needed. We break these down into smaller steps or goals and check in periodically to review progress made using KPIs and metrics. With this method, we are able to continually adjust our strategy so that we meet our short-term and long-term goals for increased sustainability.”

Grace Baena, Director of Brand, Kaiyo
www.kaiyo.com

Step 3: Implement a Sustainable Returns Process

Once you’ve set your sustainability goals and decided which area of your business you want to focus on making more sustainable first, it’s time to take action.

In order to effectively implement your sustainability goals, you’ll need to set up a system for tracking and recording returns data and work with reliable service providers to ensure that the right incentives and processes are in place to manage returns sustainably. 

Use a Returns Management System (RMS)

Using a returns management system can greatly help in implementing a sustainable returns process by automating and streamlining the returns process. 

An RMS like ReturnGO enables you to track and monitor your returns. Another advantage of using an RMS is that it provides you with data about your returns that can help you improve your returns process and make data-driven decisions. 

The ReturnGO returns management system also includes features like pre-paid return shipping labels, consolidation of return shipments, and incentives to encourage certain return methods, which can help reduce waste, emissions, and costs.

Using a returns management system can make it easier for you to implement sustainable eCommerce practices because it simplifies the process and integrates with your shipping carriers, warehouse management systems, and helpdesks. This makes it easier to manage, scale, and track the sustainable practices you implement.

Work With Reliable Service Providers

It’s important to make sure that you are working with reliable service providers, whether that’s shipping carriers, warehouse management systems, or packaging suppliers. Work with companies that share your commitment to sustainability and have proven track records.

Some of the most important things to look for in a service provider are reliability, expertise, and experience. Ideally, a service provider will deliver on their promises as well as provide excellent customer service and support.

When choosing a service provider, look for service providers who have experience working with other eCommerce stores in your industry and who are familiar with the challenges that come with handling returns, and make sure your service providers have solid reputations by reading online reviews and asking for references. 

Do your research when choosing service providers for a sustainable returns process, and make sure the companies you choose have relevant experience and knowledge. It can be helpful to evaluate several options in order to determine which is the best fit for your store’s needs.

Put in Place the Sustainable Practices You Decided On

Take the steps you laid out in your sustainability goals, whether that’s switching to eco-friendly packaging, setting up a carbon-offsetting program, reselling returned items, or any other changes you decided to make.

When implementing your sustainability efforts, pay close attention to the details of the process. Define clear steps and assign responsibilities, and make sure the necessary resources are available. 

Know that once you begin to implement your sustainable practices, there will be roadblocks and unforeseen challenges, and you’ll need to adapt your goals as necessary. That’s completely normal. Just review your sustainability goals and see where you need to make adjustments.

Step 4: Communicate Your Commitment

Once you’ve implemented sustainable practices in your eCommerce store, it’s important to communicate your sustainable efforts everywhere you can, including on your website and social media channels as well as in your return policy and product pages. 

Communicating your sustainability efforts is an essential part of building trust and creating transparency with your customers. 

Where to Communicate Your Sustainability Efforts

Clearly communicating your commitment to sustainability is essential for inspiring change and gaining support. Promote your sustainability efforts everywhere from your product pages to your return policy to email marketing.

Return Policy

Reflect your sustainability efforts in your return policy. A well-crafted return policy can help to reduce the environmental impact of returns by encouraging customers to keep items instead of shipping them back or explaining how you repurpose returned items. 

When writing your return policy, make sure to include clear information about your sustainable returns process, and make sure it’s easily accessible to customers. Display your return policy on your website header or footer, on product pages, and in confirmation emails. 

A clear return policy can help educate customers about the steps you are taking to reduce waste and emissions, and also make it easy for them to see the impact they are making when they choose to shop with you.

Website

Include information about your sustainability efforts on your website, such as on your “About Us” page or on a dedicated “Sustainability” page. 

This helps educate customers about the sustainable practices you have in place and shows them the impact they have when they choose to buy from your store.

Product Pages

Include information about the sustainability of your products on your product pages, such as the materials used, the environmental impact of production and shipping, and what happens to the products when they are returned. 

Clearly communicating your sustainability efforts on your product pages helps build customer trust and reassures customers that their purchase is sustainable.

Marketing

Use marketing channels such as social media and email marketing to effectively communicate your sustainability efforts to a wide audience. 

Through marketing your sustainability efforts, you can increase awareness about sustainability and educate customers about the impact of their purchases.

Making your store stand out through sustainability initiatives and products can create a sense of community and loyalty among your customers, helping them feel part of something important, which can lead to repeat purchases and increased customer retention.

Employee Communication

Involve your employees and support agents in your sustainability efforts and ensure they know their role in helping your store achieve its sustainability goals.

Mission Statement

Make sure your sustainability efforts are reflected in your store’s mission statement. Your store’s mission statement communicates who you are, what you stand for, and why you’re doing what you do.

Incorporating your sustainability efforts into your mission statement helps you align your efforts with your overall business goals and values. It also helps customers understand why sustainability is important to you and how you aim to make a difference.

Regardless of where you decide to communicate your sustainability efforts, it’s important to be consistent, transparent, and honest in order to build trust with your customers.

“We created an Instagram campaign in which we included what we’ll introduce. Our company collectively decided to share the campaign on the platform that already had a promising following – Instagram. We posted videos and Reels to inform our audience that we’d introduce climate-neutral shipping processes. An in-depth video was made highlighting the entire journey.”

Melissa Collins, Food Scientist and Director of Content, Jupiter
www.getjupiter.com

Step 5: Monitor and Measure Your Progress

Once you’ve implemented your sustainability strategy, it is essential to monitor and measure your progress so that you can make adjustments as needed.

Review your return data regularly to identify patterns and make adjustments as needed. Identify and track key trends over time so you can see how your efforts are impacting overall results.

Tracking your progress helps you stay on track to achieve your sustainability goals. Then, once you achieve your sustainability goals, you can set new ones and continue improving and making an impact.

Making your online store more sustainable is a never-ending process, and it’s important to keep updating, adjusting, and adding sustainable practices to keep reducing your environmental impact.

“We track metrics like energy consumption, recycling rates, water usage, carbon emissions, waste production across every process involved in production as well as product lifecycle analysis (LCA). We also monitor customer feedback about their experience with us versus other stores to identify areas where we can improve toward achieving greater sustainability goals. 

From there, we adjust our goals according to what data is telling us; this could mean investing more resources into certain parts of the supply chain or product design that consume larger amounts of energy or emit higher levels of carbon dioxide during manufacturing.”

Eric Sornoso, CEO, Meal Fan
www.mealfan.com

The 5-Step Process to Sustainable Returns

After breaking down each step, here’s a recap of the process of making your returns more sustainable:

1. Evaluate your current practices

  • Measure your carbon emissions, waste generation, and efficiency.
  • Identify areas for improvement.

2. Set sustainability goals

  • Decide what areas to focus on first.
  • Set specific, measurable goals.

3. Implement a sustainable returns process

  • Use a returns management system.
  • Work with reliable service providers.
  • Put your new sustainability practices into action.

4. Communicate your commitment

  • Clearly communicate your sustainability efforts through your website, product pages, return policy, and marketing channels.

5. Monitor and measure your progress

  • Track your returns data.
  • Adapt and adjust your sustainability practices as needed.

By implementing these steps, you can reduce waste, emissions, and costs, and create a more sustainable eCommerce business. 

Best Practices for Sustainable Returns

As you take action to make your returns more sustainable, keep these best practices in mind.

Avoid Greenwashing

Avoid greenwashing by being transparent about your efforts, practices, and process. Make sure not to make misleading claims about the sustainability of your products or return process.

In addition to weakening trust and credibility, greenwashing can have negative effects on the environment and on your reputation.

To avoid greenwashing, be transparent about your efforts, and make sure that any claims you make are supported by data and evidence. Openly communicate your sustainable efforts and be ready to provide more details upon request.

Constantly Look to Improve

Regularly evaluate and reassess your returns process, and make sure to consistently set new goals and implement new strategies as needed to reduce waste, emissions, and costs. 

It’s important to constantly be looking to improve your store’s sustainability in order to remain relevant and effective over time and to keep up with customer preferences and industry developments.

“Educate yourself constantly about current trends and solutions on how you could improve your sustainability efforts when dealing with product returns – there’s always room for improvement, so don’t feel like once you’ve started down this path there’s no more work left to be done here!”

Carlos Barros, Director of Marketing, Epos Now
www.eposnow.com/us

Be Open to Customer Feedback

Make use of feedback from customers to improve your returns process, meet expectations, and improve your store’s sustainability over time.

Customer feedback is important because it helps you better understand how your business and sustainability efforts are perceived by your customers, identify areas of improvement, and make informed decisions. In addition to building trust and improving customer relationships, accepting feedback shows that you value customers’ input and are committed to improving.

In order to receive customer feedback you can set up surveys, create a customer feedback box, and encourage customers to leave reviews on your site. Make sure to put a process in place to regularly review and respond to customer feedback.

Make Use of Technology

Use eCommerce software and tools such as shipping carriers, helpdesk software, and returns management systems to optimize your returns process.

With today’s advanced technology, you can easily increase efficiency, and reduce costs and emissions as well as improve the customer experience.

By using ReturnGO’s returns management system you can automate your returns process, track and monitor returns, and also provide customers with options such as sustainable return methods, pre-paid return shipping labels, and a clear return policy. 

ReturnGO also provides valuable analytics and actionable insights to help you make data-driven decisions, identify areas for improvement, and improve your returns process. 

4 Examples of eCommerce Stores With Sustainable Returns

Let’s take a look at how some eCommerce stores are implementing sustainable returns practices. 

Seeing real examples can give you a better sense of the different strategies and tools you can use to reduce the environmental impact of returns while meeting the needs of eco-conscious customers. 

From innovative recycling programs to carbon offsetting programs, these examples show how online stores are finding creative and effective ways to be more sustainable. 

1. Hellovein

“We use biodegradable packaging whenever possible and recycle or repurpose all materials that can’t be reused. We also strive to reduce our environmental footprint by utilizing carbon offsets and renewable energy sources to power our operations. 

We communicate the sustainability efforts of our business through multiple channels including our website, email campaigns, and social media posts. 

On each platform, we feature stories about how we are minimizing waste, investing in renewable energy solutions, and creating sustainable partnerships with suppliers and customers alike. 

We’re committed to being an environmentally responsible company, and we want shoppers to know that their purchases are making a positive impact on the planet.”

Kreisel Jaquish, Owner and CEO
www.hellovein.com

2. Kate Backdrop

“Our packaging is made from 100% recycled materials, which we source from post-industrial waste. 

Our return process is designed to minimize our environmental impact. Any returned items are inspected for damage, and any damaged items are donated or repurposed by us. We then ensure that all of our packaging is reused as much as possible before it goes into the recycling bin. 

Furthermore, we communicate our sustainability efforts to customers through various channels, such as our website and social media pages. We post regular updates about the steps we take to reduce our environmental impact, including details about how we package products and process returns. 

We also hold special events where customers can come in to learn more about sustainability initiatives that our company is involved in.”

David Zhang, CEO
www.katebackdrop.com

3. Soxy

“We make use of biodegradable materials for product packaging to make the returns process as sustainable as possible. We use recycled fabric for our packaging. The use of plastic packaging for the return process can be detrimental to the environment. 

Our e-commerce store focuses on sustainability as an objective. Our vision for a greener future is communicated through our social media posts, email newsletters, and product sourcing and packaging. 

The sales and marketing department of the store actively communicates our sustainability efforts to the target audience on these platforms.”

Jessica Kats, eCommerce and Retail Expert
www.soxy.com

4. Aimvein

“We’ve put in place several measures to ensure that our returns process is as eco-friendly as possible. 

We use recycled materials wherever we can, such as paper and cardboard, and all of our plastic packaging is made from recyclable materials. 

We also offer an option for customers to return their goods using a pre-paid postage label, so that goods don’t have to make multiple trips back and forth between the customer and our warehouse. This helps us reduce emissions associated with transportation.”

Robert Leonard, Owner
www.aimvein.com

Take Action Towards a More Sustainable Future

The environmental impact of eCommerce returns is a growing concern, and it is important to take action to reduce your store’s environmental impact. 

By implementing sustainable returns practices, you can minimize your impact on the environment while meeting the evolving expectations of eco-conscious customers.

This guide explored the importance of sustainability in eCommerce returns and looked at various strategies and tools to make your returns process more eco-friendly. 

It’s important to note that sustainability is a journey, not a destination, and that it’s important to constantly look for ways to improve and to be open to feedback. 

Now is the time to get started on making your returns more sustainable. Every small step can make a big difference.

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