Sustainable eCommerce: is it possible?
Environmental sustainability is a term that has increasingly gained popularity over the past couple of years among consumers and brands, influencing their purchases and business choices, respectively.
According to a Nielsen study, 73% of global consumers say they would definitely change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact, and when it comes to eCommerce, the International Post Corporation shows that 60% of consumers agreed that their eCommerce packaging needs to be sustainable, and 50% said that they would like the delivery of their parcels to be carbon-neutral. And the best part is that these consumers are willing to pay for these changes. 50% of consumers are willing to pay 0.10€ more for sustainable packaging, whilst 44% is willing to pay 0.10€ more for carbon-neutral delivery.
But the thing is, although customers are willing to change their habits and pay for better environmental options, 81% of consumers feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment– and that translates across generations and geography.
And this led us to one question.
Can eCommerce and environmental sustainability work together?
Well, let’s first review the concept of sustainability.
According to Investopedia, sustainability ‘focuses on meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. The concept of sustainability is composed of three pillars: economic, environmental and social.’ But for the sake of simplicity, today we are just focusing on the environmental aspect of sustainability.
So sustainability is basically a smart, logical way to use Earth’s resources now, such as natural gas, oil, and water, without jeopardizing them for future generations.
Now let’s take a look at the environmental side of eCommerce. What are the biggest environmental issues when it comes to online shopping?
One word: deliveries.
When you think about the online shopping process, you may say that, because consumers don’t shop in physical stores, it eliminates car trips to a location and the carbon emissions related to it. Well, some of this is true – online shopping can reduce those runs to the mall.
But products still need to be in the consumers’ hands, whether that is by delivering it to their houses, to a pick-up place, or anything in between. And a study by the University of Delaware suggests that online shopping may have worsened traffic congestion and transport-related carbon emissions.
The researchers at the University of Delaware surveyed the shopping habits of Newark’s residents, to calculate the quantity of goods purchased through online shopping, and they also surveyed delivery companies to get information about the number of trucks on the road and the number of packages each truck contained. This way, they determined how many delivery trucks are required to distribute online shopping purchases and the effect of these delivery trucks on the transportation network of Newark.
And the results showed that traffic was worse than they had predicted.
An increase in the number of online shopping purchases increased, overall, travel time, traffic delays, and vehicle emissions of the transportation network. According to the study leader, Arde Faghri, the number of vehicles on the road and the total number of miles driven, didn’t decrease at all with the growth of online shopping.
But if you take a step back, you can see that this isn’t the only environmental problem that eCommerce has. In fact, this next issue doesn’t involve just eCommerce – it involves Commerce as a whole. We’re talking about consumerism.
Consumerism is a cultural attitude that promotes the acquisition and consumption of goods as a vehicle for economic growth and personal satisfaction. So, as the demand for goods increases, the production of said goods also increases. Which, in turn, leads to greenhouse gas emissions, increased land-use, extreme use of water supplies, waste disposal, and accelerated climate change.
So what can be done?
Hey, we’re going to be completely honest with you. The ideal solution, in terms of sustainability, would be to stop consuming, pure and simple. Stop online shopping and shopping, all together.
But, the thing is, we are also realists, so we are aware that that probablywon’t work in the long run – and probably is a very generous word here. Human beings can consume less, of course, but stopping all together is not feasible. However, the ‘if you can’t do it all, then it’s not worth doing’ is not a good mentality to have when it comes to the environment.
And obviously we know that your online store needs to sell in order for you to build a successful business. So, we’re back to the same question: what can we do now?
Well, to start off, it makes sense to tackle the main ecological problem in eCommerce – its deliveries.
When it comes to deliveries, nothing is more important than choosing the right delivery partner(s). They are the part of the process that makes sure that your product arrives safe and sound to clients’ homes. Which means they are in charge of one of the most polluting parts of eCommerce.
So, by choosing a partner that has green shipping alternatives (for example, a fleet of electric vehicles), you will already reduce your online stores’ greenhouse emissions.
But even if your partner doesn’t own an electric fleet, there are ways in which you can reduce the overall transportation frequency of your products.
For example, same-day delivery and express shipping are one of the factors that increases the frequency and the number of vehicles on the road, because they want to delivery your products as fast as possible to the consumer – which often is something that clients didn’t ask for.
So, imagine that you have 3 shipping options: standard (3 to 4 business days), express (1 to 2 days) and same-day delivery. During your online stores’ checkout process, by stating to your client that by choosing standard delivery they will help the environment and save X% on emissions, a lot of consumers will prefer that.
And these are only some of the options that you have in terms of deliveries. There are a lot more actions to consider. And, of course, there are also other aspects of eCommerce to consider in the sustainability realm, like the product itself, its packaging, the green practices of a business, among others – you have some examples by other companies here.
But look, we aren’t experts in sustainability in any way. So we will leave some resources at the end of the article, in case you want to check more actions and ideas that you can implement.
What we do believe is that this is a topic deserves a lot more attention than what it’s given to it. So, by writing this article, we hope to open up the conversation about the topic, and to start discussing more, and better ways, to make eCommerce more environmentally friendly and sustainable.