A good and responsible business is not just about being profitable. It is also about what that business gives back to the environment. With an exponential increase in online shopping every day, eCommerce businesses have more social responsibility than ever before.
But what exactly is sustainable eCommerce, and how to achieve it? Will your contribution to sustainability be worth it? Is sustainability an arduous task or a combination of tiny achievable steps?
You will learn all you need to know about sustainable eCommerce in this article. By the end of this article, you will know the significance of environmental sustainability and what’s in it for you.
What Is Sustainable eCommerce?
Sustainable eCommerce refers to running an online business so that none of its practices harms the environment. These practices go beyond just selling eco-friendly products.
Sustainability applies to all practices involved in eCommerce, including sourcing, packaging, storing, shipping, and employee management.
The ever-increasing trend in online buying and selling puts greater responsibility on eCommerce businesses to adopt sustainable business activities. That’s why smart eCommerce businesses have already started implementing eco-friendly solutions.
Intelligent eCommerce businesses also use their eco-friendly practices to attract more customers by earning more respect and credibility in the eyes of their customers.
We will know such strategies in the coming sections.
What Are the Benefits of Sustainability?
Let’s learn about what benefits your eCommerce business can get by adopting sustainable practices.
There are millions of businesses selling their products online. Thousands of sellers may try to sell the same products to the same audience.
The buyers can’t remember all the businesses. But they probably remember businesses that focus on sustainability.
So, the environment cares back for your business in response to your care. Better brand recognition is only one such example.
Exclusive Competitive Advantage
Let’s discuss online sellers selling the same products to the same audience. It is imperative that your contribution to saving the environment makes you stand out from the crowd.
Online businesses that are indifferent to the environment don’t get easily noticed. You can beat your competitors exclusively just by sharing your eco-friendly initiatives. By adopting sustainable ways, you can also sell the same products at higher prices.
A common misconception is that using sustainable ways in a business will increase costs. But the reality is otherwise if you do it the right way.
Eliminating unnecessary practices, processes, and equipment will reduce your extra costs. Moreover, the overall benefits that a business will get by being sustainable will add to its revenues.
For example, if there is extra lighting at your fulfillment house or high-voltage equipment that energy-efficient systems can replace, you will save costs in the long run.
Increase in Sales
If your customers value your steps towards sustainability, they are most likely to buy from your business for their future demands. This will increase your overall sales and profits.
Moreover, your business is more likely to get new sales from countries that pay special tribute to the environment.
Better Business Future
As awareness grows about environmental protection, governments are more likely to impose stricter regulations on businesses. If you have already started working in the right direction, you are more likely to reap benefits in the future.
So, it is better to act now by introducing simple environment-friendly solutions day by day. Your business may be fully sustainable with a gradual but continuous improvement.
Your employees may seem indifferent towards sustainability, but almost every employee has this environmental realization in their subconscious. So, if your business is eco-friendly, you are most likely to get a better workforce in the first place.
Moreover, you don’t have to worry about employee retention. Many employees value how they are treated at work and if the business is socially responsible.
So, most employees will prefer staying at a sustainable business because sustainability is also linked to employees’ security and well-being. That’s why an employee would prefer working in an eco-friendly atmosphere at a lower salary rather than hazardous ones with higher wages.
No business can flourish without a feeling of self-satisfaction. Your business will flourish when you or your employees feel good about your company’s work.
Running a sustainable business provides a sense of self-satisfaction. It makes you and your company realize that what you do benefits current and future generations.
Examples of Sustainable eCommerce Practices
Let’s discuss some of the most common and successful examples of sustainable eCommerce practices. You can implement these practices in your business to be more socially responsible.
Choosing Eco-friendly Suppliers
An eCommerce business starts with sourcing products. You would have many options to source your products. Most eCommerce businesses would prefer cost over social responsibility.
A sustainable eCommerce business would ask suppliers about how the products were made. It would ask the suppliers about the raw materials used in manufacturing the products.
Ideally, a transaction would be made only if the supplier meets the sustainability requirements. This is then reflected on their websites that the products were made in compliance with environment-friendly procedures.
Selling Eco-Friendly Products
Choosing eco-friendly products to sell online is another major decision a sustainable business makes. Many products may sell like hotcakes, but a sustainable business refrains from selling them if they are eco-friendly.
The materials from which a product is made and its impacts on the environment when it will be used or discarded matter a lot for a sustainable business.
Using Eco-Friendly Packaging
Packaging is one of the most important factors in an eCommerce business that goes to waste. Many customers just throw away the packaging that ends up in landfills.
Sustainable eCommerce businesses know this fact and act proactively. They use eco-friendly packaging that is recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable. In this way, their packaging doesn’t harm the environment, even if they are thrown away.
Detailed Product Descriptions
Many eCommerce businesses only focus on including the main points of their selling products. Their ad copies and product descriptions may only include the features and benefits of the products.
They ignore the environmental impacts of their products, even though they may be eco-friendly. A sustainable business, on the other hand, highlights the environmental features of the products.
Detailed instructions are mentioned in the product description about how to safely use and discard the products. Complete information is provided if the products need to be recycled or composted.
A sustainable eCommerce business adopts a minimalist approach. Using unnecessary things that may end up being wasted are discouraged by a sustainable business.
You would see many eCommerce businesses that utilize minimum resources that are absolutely necessary. For example, a sustainable business will prefer working in the sunlight, so they don’t have to rely on electricity at night.
A professional business would prefer dispatching their products in batches rather than shipping every order individually.
While expedited delivery is one of the most important factors in achieving customer satisfaction, you can make your customers realize that you dispatch your products at a certain schedule to ensure sustainability. They would understand this and may also appreciate it.
You can also cover your late dispatches under the ambit of sustainability.
Heavy Reliance on Online Activities
You may have noticed that some businesses with physical and online presence always encourage their customers to buy online. That’s their initiative to promote sustainability.
Physical shops require many resources to be operated in comparison to online shops. A sustainable eCommerce business incentivizes its customers with special discounts if they buy from its online store or mobile app.
The products from a responsible eCommerce business come with specific sustainability instructions. For example, the packaging and the products inside it would have instructions about how to trash them.
A sustainable eCommerce business also utilizes its marketing emails to make its customers realize how much it cares about the environment. For example, the signature at the end of an email would include a message for sustainability that would say something like, “Think about the environment before printing this email.”
Such small techniques elevate a business image and earn huge customer respect in the long run.
A sustainable eCommerce business always promotes and prefers electronic ways of doing things. For example, it would prefer an email or a soft copy instead of a print.
The world has realized the importance of going online after the recent pandemic. That’s why responsible businesses have started promoting work-from-home culture. An employee naturally contributes to saving the environment by working from home.
You may have noticed that some smart eCommerce businesses have introduced the culture of “giving back to nature.” Their websites mention that a portion of every purchase goes to their plantation initiative to save the environment.
That’s their strategy to attract more customers while contributing to sustainability. It is a successful strategy that convinces buyers to contribute to sustainability by placing an order.
How Can eCommerce Businesses Be More Sustainable?
There are many ways an eCommerce business can be more sustainable. Some of them are mentioned below.
Use of Sustainable Packaging Materials
The raw materials used to design the packaging play a vital role in sustainability. If the materials are eco-friendly, the packaging will be sustainable. Otherwise, it would add up to polluting the environment.
Sustainable packaging materials are the types of materials that decompose easily into the environment without harming nature or disturbing the ecosystem. Sustainable materials are easily biodegradable in a few days without leaving harmful residues.
Harmful materials like plastic and chemicals would leave toxic substances dangerous for the environment. These substances may also take thousands of years to decompose. They also affect the earth’s fertility to grow plants.
Common sustainable packaging materials are made of organic and natural substances such as hemp, paper, and plant wastes. These substances are processed to make packaging that easily decomposes in the environment.
Some packaging materials are specially made to make the soil more fertile. The packaging made from these materials is called compostable. Compostable packaging is the type of packaging that promotes plant growth if processed in certain conditions.
Eco-friendly packaging materials help reduce carbon emissions and help make the environment clean and green.
Another common approach to using sustainable packaging is made with recyclable packaging materials. These packaging materials can be recycled again and again to be used afresh.
Common recyclable materials include plastic, aluminum, and glass. You may have seen special bins indicating to be used for recyclable materials. These materials are brought to be processed again to turn into new packaging.
Another approach to ensuring sustainability through packaging is using the minimum possible packaging to dispatch a product. If a product can be wrapped with simple paper, it should be in a smaller box.
This would save the environment and reduce your shipping costs in terms of volumetric weight.
Carbon-Neutral Shipping Options
Shipping has huge importance in global eCommerce. Shipping products from one country to another requires great energy consumption and releases a lot of harmful carbon.
The products your customers receive may have gone through multiple regions before being delivered. That’s why shipping needs to be addressed while considering sustainability.
A carbon-neutral initiative refers to a scheme of compensating for the carbon emissions caused by shipping companies. It is a way to neutralize their carbon emissions by investing in sustainability projects. It balances the environmental hazards they have caused.
Many shipping companies invest in green projects to compensate for their harmful carbon emissions. Additionally, they also try to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible.
There is no set formula for how much a shipping company should invest in a sustainable project that would replace the harm done by them. But this is a wonderful initiative that is beneficial for the environment.
While the shipping industry is highly responsible for adding hazardous carbon to the environment, it is the need of the hour to create a balance. The same goes for an eCommerce business.
Being a retailer, your business is also linked to carbon emissions. You receive products from your suppliers and also ship them one by one to your customers. So, you are responsible for compensating for it as much as possible.
Sustainable Fulfillment Centers
An eCommerce business has a wonderful opportunity to be sustainable by rightly utilizing its fulfillment centers. There are many ways you can make your fulfillment centers sustainable.
You can make your fulfillment centers energy-efficient by using equipment that requires minimum energy. For example, using LED lighting instead of high voltage systems would be a great step towards a sustainable fulfillment center.
You can design your fulfillment center in a way that has minimum reliance on artificial lighting. You can use maximum natural light instead of electricity. You can also use natural heat and cooling instead of using power-generated systems.
You can use automation techniques instead of manual operations in your fulfillment centers. For example, software and apps can integrate orders, dispatch, and stock levels.
These steps will conserve energy and make your fulfillment center more efficient and sustainable.
You can consolidate your orders to dispatch them all together. Dispatching individual orders to every customer is not a sustainable approach.
You can get your vehicles to your fulfillment center at the end of the day to take all the orders to be dispatched. This will reduce your shipping costs.
Most eCommerce businesses don’t run individual fulfillment centers. Instead, they hire third-party fulfillment services to handle storage and shipping for them.
Using shared space will not only save you costs but will also serve your purpose of sustainability.
Recycling Programs for Returned or Excess Products
Product return is integral to eCommerce. But what should you do with the returned, damaged, or undelivered products?
A sustainable eCommerce business does not keep returned or excess products to turn them into dead stock. A smart approach is making those products useful for your company or society.
Instead of wasting them or adding them to your stock, you can recycle them to turn them into new products. This can also be a source of additional income for your business.
If the returned products are still usable, you can donate those products to charities and NGOs. Those products will reach the needy. You will have a sense of satisfaction in playing your part for the betterment of society.
FAQs about Sustainable eCommerce
Read the answers to the frequently asked questions about sustainable eCommerce to enhance your knowledge further.
Can a Small Business Implement Sustainable eCommerce Practices?
Yes. Implementing sustainable eCommerce practices doesn’t have to come from established businesses only. A small business can also run a successful and profitable eCommerce business without additional costs.
It is just a matter of the right choices a small business must make to run a sustainable business. These steps will benefit a small business in the long run.
Are There Any Certifications for Sustainability in eCommerce?
Yes. You can have certifications from renowned organizations to prove your commitment to a sustainable environment.
Certifications like ISO 14001 indicate that the business is environmentally friendly. You can display these certifications on your website to let your customers know that you actually care for the environment.
How Can an eCommerce Company Involve Customers in Sustainability?
An eCommerce company can relate to its customers by combining efforts to protect the environment. It can ask for customer donations to support the company’s sustainability initiatives.
An eCommerce company can also be open to suggestions from its customers regarding what steps a company should take that can benefit the environment.
How Would an eCommerce Know That the Supplier Is Also Involved in Sustainable Efforts?
You can ask direct questions from your suppliers and ask for proof if the supplier is also involved in implementing sustainable practices. Another great way of validating this is to hire the services of a sourcing agent.
A professional sourcing company like NicheSources ensures to buy products from environmentally friendly suppliers. It audits the factories and validates the sustainability promises made by manufacturers.
How Can an eCommerce Company Measure the Sustainability Progress?
You can set short-term and long-term goals to measure your sustainability efforts. You can get involved directly to make things right or participate in other social projects to play your part.
For example, you can have an estimate of carbon emissions caused by your business in a year. You can compensate for that loss by gradually investing in eco-friendly projects to compensate for that loss.
Sustainability is the need of the hour as the world is going through tough environmental conditions. The dangerous greenhouse emissions are a serious threat for generations to come. Therefore, businesses need to act responsibly.
This article will serve as a guide toward achieving sustainable eCommerce. You can take help from this article whenever you feel conscious about protecting the ecosystem.
If you want to source eco-friendly products to sell online, ask for a free quote today. One of our sustainability experts will walk you through sourcing the right products from the right suppliers.