There are many reasons why an ecommerce business model is more eco-friendly than a brick-and-mortar retail business model.
Ecommerce stores don’t take up physical space, they don’t require the extra leg of transport from warehouse to store, and they don’t force shoppers to drive (or travel at all) somewhere to view the products.
That said, the operations behind ecommerce businesses are not exactly good for the environment.
For example, digital experiences require computing power to occur, which is responsible for its own greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, some estimate that computing is responsible for somewhere between 2.1% and 3.9% of all carbon emissions today, which would mean it has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry.
Another way ecommerce businesses have a negative impact on the environment is the fact that they need to ship every single order to the customer who is making the purchase. Whether it’s by freight, plane, or truck, every single delivery has greenhouse gas emissions attributed to it. On top of the carbon emissions, shipping also requires companies to utilize extra materials for packaging, which have their own negative ecological impact.
So, how does one ensure their shipping practices are as eco-friendly as possible?
Five steps toward implementing eco-friendly shipping practices in your ecommerce business
Minimize packaging and lean into the sustainability story
Packaging is a huge part of any ecommerce experience today.
From unboxing videos to welcome inserts, consumers expect to be wowed from the moment the product arrives at their door. Brands have been implementing everything from branded packaging tape to packing paper that matches their brand colors, and these things absolutely help create fully immersive unboxing experiences. The only issue is that once the unboxing is finished and the customer is focused on the product they just received, these extra materials go straight into the trash.
Instead of adding materials that end up in the trash, brands and retailers should minimize the packaging they use and leverage that sustainable decision in their unboxing experience. For example, instead of including an insert in the package they can print a QR code on the box that opens a landing page with the same content the insert would’ve contained plus a small note about how this format is more healthy for the environment.
Utilize a decentralized warehousing model to minimize shipping distances
Shoppers obviously expect to receive their products within a specific time period due to increased availability of one and two day shipping. The minute a brand or retailer sacrifices conveniences like this for other trade offs they begin to lose customers.
By distributing products across multiple warehouses based on proximity to customer hotspots, brands and retailers can minimize their shipping zones and increase the number of instances where orders only travel by ground instead of by plane. This mode of transport releases the smallest amount of carbon per distance travelled and, therefore, is the most sustainable option. Meanwhile, the fact that there is inventory within driving distance of every customer enables the brand or retailer to still commit to the short delivery times that consumers expect.
Decentralized warehouses also lower the cost of transport, which means it’s not only better for the environment but also your business as a whole.
Create incentives to encourage shoppers to choose eco-friendly options
The responsibility of eco-friendly shipping practices doesn’t only have to fall on the brand or retailer. By creating programs that enable customers to participate in sustainable practices, brands and retailers can simultaneously save themselves costs and set proper expectations with consumers who decide to purchase from them. One example of this is creating loyalty incentives around electing longer shipping times, fewer shipments, or other more eco-friendly shipping options that sacrifice a bit of convenience.
These incentives don’t always have to be tied to loyalty programs either. Brands and retailers can offer discounts or gift cards based on if customers choose an eco-friendly shipping option over a more convenient one. They can also create experiences and communities around the subsection of customers who seem to value these eco-friendly shipping options over the more convenient ones. There are all kinds of ways for brands and retailers to create added value around customers making the ecologically responsible choice.
Manage inventory and logistics more efficiently with an ecommerce operations software
This step is what Linnworks does. Brands and retailers should implement a technology in their stack that enables them to meticulously track and manage inventory, orders, and shipping so that they can continuously optimize their strategy to be more and more eco-friendly.
Ensuring third-party partners, such as manufacturers, warehouses, and couriers, have sustainable practices is a huge undertaking all on its own. By leveraging software to manage the day-to-day operations, brand and retailer operations teams can spend more time finding the partners that will enable them to meet their sustainability goals. Having in-depth insights into inventory and orders also enables them to make the right decisions when it comes to optimizing their supply chain to be more sustainable.
Sustainable inventory practices can be everything from ensuring things never sit in warehouses for too long to always having product in locations where orders are most likely to be coming in from. Maintaining the proper supply for demand across all of the geographies being served is a sustainable practice in and of itself.
Partner with carbon offsetting projects to make orders carbon neutral
Finally, after all of these other steps are said and done it’s time for brands and retailers to offset the remaining carbon emissions created by their shipping practices.
The truth is, shipping is always going to emit some amount of greenhouse gases no matter how sustainable a business’s practices are. With a tool like EcoCart, brands and retailers can calculate the amount of carbon being emitted by every single order based on the inputs of their specific manufacturing and delivery methods. That amount of carbon emissions can then be matched to an amount of an offsetting project that would need to be funded to counteract its effect on the environment. Brands and retailers can then either pay the amount calculated to offset said emissions or they can ask customers to pay to offset the carbon emissions of their own order.
Offsetting projects include things such as forest protection, clean energy production, and more. By funding these projects, brands and retailers are able to have a neutral effect on the amount of carbon emissions in the earth’s atmosphere, which is about as sustainable of a shipping practice as possible.