5 Environmental Sustainability Tips for Small to Medium E-commerce Businesses

More than just a trend, sustainability is now a key factor that is playing an ever-important role in business practices across the world. Put simply, brands can no longer afford to ignore sustainability if they want to be successful. 

 We’ve reached a point where many people take global warming – and its consequences – into consideration when making decisions concerning their lifestyles. From cutting out food groups from their diets in a bid to slow down global warming, to swapping cars for bikes and even bidding farewell to international travel, it’s clear that concerns about climate change have made their way into the consumer buying process. And it looks like they are here to stay.

Climate Change is a growing concern among Millennial consumers

Every brand wants to be sustainable, but achieving credibility when making the shift towards promoting eco-friendly consumption can be tricky. 

 There has been a noticeable shift towards eco-friendly product alternatives among climate-concerned individuals, which happen to make up a significant segment of millennial consumers. Buyers are often willing to pay more for durable, reusable and sustainable products, but brands might have a hard time convincing their established customer base to spend more on their products. 

 This has led to a rise in greenwashing from non-sustainable brands, touting their products as green or greener than an alternative without actually putting in the work.

What is Greenwashing and will it harm your business?

Greenwashing describes the practice of overstating or fabricating a brand’s sustainability efforts through adverts, campaigns and products. The term was coined in 1986 by the American environmentalist and researcher Jay Westerveld, who used it to describe the hypocrisy of a beach resort in Samoa. The resort was promoting a reusable towel service among beachgoers, while causing land destruction by expanding further into the local area. 

Since then, many major companies – such as fast fashion brands, fossil fuel companies and plastic bottle producers – have come under fire for promoting their products as environmentally friendly while their business practices are far from sustainable. 

 Whether companies aim to exploit a new consumer base or to distract from their harmful emissions, high carbon footprint or environmental damage, there has been an increase in brands adopting greenwashing tactics as consumers become more aware of what they purchase.

While companies may profit from greenwashing campaigns in the short term, consumers are often quick to call out brands that employ greenwashing tactics, which ultimately damage brand reputation and lose clients over time.

Sustainability in E-Commerce: How Can You Make your Business more Sustainable?

 When done right, sustainable practices undoubtedly have a positive impact on customers and the environment – a win-win for companies! Brands can promote the measures taken to protect the environment, gaining customer loyalty and even attracting new customers, without the need for greenwashing.

Here are a few tips to help you make your e-commerce business more sustainable:

1. Encourage the 3 Rs

A first step in making your e-commerce business more sustainable is to implement the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. This could mean placing recycling bins in your offices, warehouses and physical retail outlets, as well as opting for recyclable or reusable packaging materials. Where possible, choose to send documents digitally instead of printing to further reduce waste.

2. Consider switching to a digital office

 Working from home became a reality for many businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many employers choosing to allow flexible working for their teams in the long term.

 Thanks to digital technologies, maintaining a virtual office is a possibility that can be more environmentally and economically friendly! Information can be stored digitally to reduce the amount of paper waste and no commuting means the carbon footprint of your staff is reduced. Moreover, you’d save money on electricity and water bills, as well as office space for your team.

3. Be smart about packaging

An obvious but often difficult practice to implement is related to product packaging. Of course, the main aim of packaging your products is to keep them safe during the delivery process. But unnecessary usage of plastic and paper can appear wasteful, and even lead to customer complaints. According to Statista, 53% of Generation Z shoppers and 45% of Millenials believe that Amazon shipments use excess packaging, so how can small to medium e-commerce businesses do better?

 First, you should opt for cardboard packaging rather than plastic wherever possible. Recycled cardboard would also be a more sustainable option than non-recycled cardboard, and recycling any accumulated by-products of the packaging process would make your packaging even more sustainable. 

Secondly, instead of fitting tiny products into large boxes and stuffing them with padding, you could buy boxes in different sizes to fit your products better. 

4. Offer sustainable shipping

One of the most prominent pieces of wisdom in the business world is that you can have good, fast and cheap products – but you can only choose two. This resonates when it comes to shipping in e-commerce, where the demand for quick delivery times has never been higher. But the ‘fast’ and ‘cheap’ shipping option means that there is no room for a ‘good’ impact on the environment. The shipping, delivery and returns process can, in fact, leave a huge carbon footprint. 

 One way to make shipping more sustainable starts in the office. Ensure that your products are clearly described on your website to avoid returns. You can also change your return policy to discourage people from buying multiple items, keeping only one and returning the rest. Furthermore, you could offer a choice to offset the carbon footprint of that product at check-out.

5. Offset carbon footprints

Finally, you could partner with an organisation or charity to offset carbon footprints. The amount of CO2 generated in the process of developing, purchasing and delivering a product will be measured, then removed from the atmosphere through reforestation and investing in renewable energy sources, for example.

If you think that any of these sustainability tips could work for your business, it could be highly beneficial for you to try them out. And, once you implement the changes you need to make your brand more sustainable, make sure you communicate your efforts with your customers. This can be done through the about us section on your website, by promoting your efforts on social media and even sending a newsletter to your clients to keep them in the know!

Could you use a helping hand in examining any of the areas listed above?

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