Sustainability has become a major concern in eCommerce. Every day, more and more brands are taking steps to reduce their impact on the environment. There’s more than one good reason why so many brands are going green.
As you’ll see, becoming more sustainable doesn’t just make environmental sense. It benefits virtually every aspect of your business, from your employees to your customers to your bottom line.
Making eCommerce More Environmentally Friendly
There are several ways eCommerce companies are making their businesses more environmentally friendly, but let’s start with a direct-to-consumer brand’s biggest and most important asset: its online storefront.
Depending on who you use to host your store, you could be generating a sizeable carbon footprint, says Formidable Forms’ Stephanie Wells. Wells cites Greenpeace research that has found many data centers — particularly those located in Virginia’s Data Center Alley — are powered by non-renewable sources of energy. Switching to a green web hosting company is a straightforward way to instantly reduce your carbon footprint.
The supply chain is also a big part of an eCommerce company’s carbon footprint. Big reductions are possible here, and these can include:
- Improving shipping. Use smaller packages and ship as many items together as possible.
- Changing packaging. Use recycled and recyclable materials as much as possible while steering clear of styrofoam.
- Partnering with an environmentally friendly delivery company. More and more logistics providers are practicing environmentally friendly delivery. Some even use electric vans.
- Optimizing your returns strategy. Put an emphasis on in-store returns, replace items without forcing customers to return the original product, and re-use or refurbish returned goods where possible.
Perhaps the fastest and most popular way of reducing an eCommerce brand’s carbon footprint is through carbon offsetting. It doesn’t directly reduce your company’s impact, GreenBiz Group’s Heather Clancy notes, but it can be very effective at minimizing the environmental impact of business activities outside of your control. For instance, Etsy does this by calculating the amount of carbon produced by sellers’ shipping activities and investing in projects that offset those emissions.
Who you work with can be just as important as the steps you take yourself, notes the team at Lil Packaging. “All businesses that create their own products rely on partners for materials for finished goods, including packaging, shipping, and even stationery.” That’s why it’s essential to understand how environmentally friendly the companies you work with are and whether switching suppliers could be beneficial.
eCommerce Is Changing to Meet Consumer Expectations
If this sounds like a lot of work, bear in mind that it’s what consumers expect. A brand’s environmental policy, not the price of its products, is becoming more and more important to consumers, writes Clutch’s Toby Cox.
In a survey of 420 U.S. consumers, Clutch found that less than half put price in their top three most important characteristics when choosing a brand to shop with. What consumers care about instead, according to Clutch’s findings, is how responsible brands are. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of consumers said a company’s commitment to the environment was a leading concern. Coming in a close second were the brand’s social responsibility (68%) and whether the brand gave back to its local community (also 68%).
Further, environmental protection is something many consumers want businesses to take a leading role in. A study of 1000 Americans by Futerra found that 88% want brands to help them “be more environmentally friendly and ethical.”
Brands with sustainable and environmental claims grow more quickly as a result of this demand. According to research by Nielsen, sustainability claims boost sales.
In the company’s 2018 What’s Sustainability Got To Do With It? report, researchers compared the sales of three product categories over a year: chocolate, coffee and bath products. In all three categories, sales of sustainable products grew much faster than the category’s average sales.
In the case of chocolate, sales of sustainable chocolate grew by 16% compared to just 5% for sales of all chocolate products. When looking exclusively at sales of the chocolate market, Nielsen also found that chocolate labeled as sustainable demonstrably outperformed both fair-trade chocolate and chocolate made with all-natural ingredients.
Demonstrating Your Commitment to Sustainability
Think about how you can communicate your environmental practices to consumers. There’s real business value in doing so.
A good starting point: Publish a sustainability plan, Small Business Trends’ Anita Campbell advises. Few things are more powerful than going public with your plans and then actively reporting on your progress with honesty and transparency. Campbell points to hygiene and skincare product company Gojo Industries as one brand that does this particularly well.
Your digital channels (and social media, in particular) can be a great way to start conversations with your customers about your green practices, says Jonathan Hanwit, Co-Founder of the branding company thinkPARALLAX. This is exactly what brands like Microsoft and Home Depot have done to let customers know about their sustainability initiatives.
Ultimately, you need to make being green part of your brand’s core identity, says writer Lesley Vos. “This includes green design, positioning, pricing, logistics, and disposal. When making environmental consciousness a No. 1 focus of your business, you succeed with both sales and consumer loyalty.”
You have to talk the talk and walk the walk, says writer Brian Appleton. “The last thing you want is a disconnect between what your brand says and what they do.”
There Are Other Benefits to Going Green, Too
There is a good chance that your government will even give you money to go green, says the team at Green Business Bureau. If your direct-to-consumer eCommerce brand is implementing environmentally friendly practices, look up what resources, if any, are available to you.
You may find your employees are delighted at your concern for the planet. Everyone feels more empowered when they have a cause that they can get behind. Going green can make your employees proud, which can also make them more motivated.
That’s certainly what Thrive Market CEO Nick Green discovered when his company committed to becoming as green as possible. He didn’t expect the company’s “Journey to Zero” to be popular, but employees were galvanized by it. So much so that the company didn’t just stop at eliminating its carbon footprint. Thrive Market became the first big eCommerce company to go to zero waste. The company also found that eliminating its carbon footprint was profitable, so win-win all around.
Going green isn’t just great for the environment. It’s great for business. Just make sure to let your customers know you’ve committed to becoming more sustainable.