Sustainable eCommerce: How to Make Your Brand Greener

Around 60% of consumers are either ‘alarmed’ or ‘concerned’ about global warming. In just five years, the number of people who are alarmed has tripled and this fast-growing group strongly supports activities that help mitigate it – including sustainable eCommerce. 

eCommerce sustainability has become increasingly popular and it’s no passing fad. To stay relevant and keep up with consumer demands, online brands need to prioritise eco-friendly eCommerce practices. 

Why eCommerce brands should focus on sustainability 

Making the transition to sustainable eCommerce can be daunting. It often requires upfront investment and delicate supply chain changes. However, plenty of benefits come with running an eco-friendly eCommerce store too. 

It meets consumer demands 

Consumers want to make environmentally-friendly purchases, so chasing eCommerce sustainability makes financial sense. 

A recent survey found that 72% of shoppers around the world are already buying more eco-friendly products than they did five years ago. 82% plan to increase their consumption over the next five years too. So there’s no doubt that this sustainability trend will continue to gain momentum. 

Sustainable businesses have a competitive advantage 

41% of US consumers actively seek out brands with strong social and environmental values. They want to support brands that align with their own beliefs. 

eCommerce brands that can connect with their audience on this level have a significant advantage over their competitors. With most consumers willing to pay 20% more for eco-friendly products, they can even beat out cheaper challengers. 

Sustainable eCommerce practices can cut costs  

Not every demographic will pay a premium for eco-friendly eCommerce options, but changing your business doesn’t have to result in rising prices. 

Many changes won’t cost much and can even save money in the long-term. For example, introducing LED light bulbs and motion-detecting lights can cut costs and reduce your impact on the planet. 

6 ways to introduce sustainable eCommerce 

Introducing sustainable eCommerce practices will impress your audience and future proof your business in one fell swoop. Here are six key actions you can take right now. 

1. Reduce your deadstock 

Deadstock is inventory that is unlikely to ever be sold. Traditionally, deadstock goes to landfill so it’s important for sustainable eCommerce brands to minimise it. 

The best way to do this is through careful inventory management. Use demand forecasting, smart ordering processes and thorough market research to make sure you order the right amount of stock. If you sell products across multiple channels, use a Digital Shelf solution to automatically monitor your inventory. This should reduce both stockouts and deadstock. 

Any products that are left can be shifted through clearance offers, product bundles and free gift promotions. You could also consider donating them to charitable organisations. 

2. Implement eco-friendly shipping options 

91% of consumers want sustainable shipping options at checkout. Most consumers would also be willing to pay 10% extra to avail of them. 

That’s why you should check out eco-friendly shipping programmes. FedEx, UPS and USPS all offer green options. While DHL GoGreen, GLS ThinkGreen and DPD Total Zero offer completely climate neutral shipping. 

Brands can also prioritise sustainability as part of their own fulfillment planning. Through smarter vehicle assignments and thoughtful warehouse locations, companies can reduce emissions. 

Last mile delivery usually accounts for a significant chunk of each shipment’s carbon footprint. But you can change this by offering shoppers the option to pick up packages in-store or through a pickup service like Parcel Motel. Policies which ensure multiple purchases ship together will help too. 

3. Use sustainable packaging 

81% of consumers feel that companies use excessive packaging to ship their products. To avoid this, opt for inflatable packaging over packing chips and emailed receipts over packing slips. 

You should also have packing boxes in a variety of sizes that will suit the different products you sell. This should reduce the amount of protective packaging you stuff inside each order. 

Try to use compostable, biodegradable or recyclable packaging too. And, if it’s made of recycled materials, that’s even better! Reducing plastic is key, because 77% of shoppers view plastic as the least eco-friendly packaging material. In fact, according to PwC, 41% of shoppers avoid it when they can. 

4. Reduce returns and exchanges 

Minimising your packaging waste can significantly reduce your environmental impact. But you need to make sure your packages have enough protection to avoid wastage and returns. That’s because returns aren’t all that sustainable. Being shipped both ways doubles their carbon footprint. 

Luckily, you can take action to reduce online returns through simple actions, such as: 

  • Selling high quality products to minimise breakages and maximise customer satisfaction. 
  • Writing clear, accurate and detailed product descriptions so customers know exactly what they’re ordering. 
  • Actively monitoring feedback so you can address the issues that lead to returns. 
  • Encouraging in-store returns if you have brick-and-mortar locations. 
  • Banning serial returners from ordering products online. (This is what Amazon does!) 

As well as boosting eCommerce sustainability, reducing returns should also save your store money. 

5. Join a carbon offset programme 

While signing up to a carbon offset programme shouldn’t be used as a remedy for unsustainable business practices, it can help make up for the unavoidable emissions that your business produces. 

By investing in a project that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, carbon offsets allow you to balance the amount of carbon dioxide generated when your products are manufactured, sold and shipped. 

Brands can cover the cost or allow shoppers to pay an optional offset charge during checkout. Software solutions like Cloverly, Wren or Shopify’s Offset make this easy. 

Alternatively, you can consider carbon offsets when choosing a shipping carrier. For example, DPD offsets its carbon footprint by funding clean energy projects around the world. DHL’s GoGreen programme has offsetting options too. 

6. Adopt circular economy practices 

The circular economy is about reusing, repairing, recycling and refurbishing materials as much as possible. In an eCommerce environment, there are tons of ways you can do this. 

IKEA runs a buy back and resell service to reduce furniture waste, while H&M accepts old clothes which it then resells secondhand, re-uses to make other products or turns it into insulation. 

A simple way to move toward eCommerce sustainability would be to sell used and returned merchandise on eBay. You could also send defective or damaged products to businesses that specialise in refurbishment. 

Marketing your sustainability efforts 

eCommerce sustainability can be a big selling point, so be sure to communicate the changes your brand is making. 

Update your FAQs and add a page to your store which showcases your sustainability efforts. You can also create blog posts, videos and other content to share your story. Spreading the word on social media is key as sustainability is particularly important to younger audiences. 

Some brands completely overhaul their branding to reflect their sustainable values. This can be a good idea if you’re making big changes to your pricing, shipping, suppliers or other aspects of your business model. 

Making sustainability a key part of your identity is a great way to stand out, create a meaningful brand mission and build a loyal following. Just make sure that eCommerce sustainability is truly at the heart of your business. If your promises are just empty words, this is bound to damage your reputation sooner or later. 

Final thoughts 

Eventually, states and lawmakers are likely to push for eCommerce sustainability. So it makes sense to act now – while you can still impress your customers.