6 Ways Brands Can be More Sustainable

Ecommerce is growing, and that’s a fact. In the first half of 2021, ecommerce sales hit $408.51 billion, up 21.9% from $335.15 billion in the first two quarters of 2020. The pandemic changed how consumers shopped, and drove them to purchase more online than ever before, promoting this rapid growth that has only continued even though many places in the world have gone back to “normal”. 

This boom in the ecommerce industry has had a resulting impact on the environment. You can’t have ecommerce without some sort of environmental impact. Each activity in the ecommerce supply chain produces carbon and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. 

The waste ecommerce produces

In 2020 2,339,000 pounds of waste was produced globally by the global ecommerce industry, a number expected to continue growing in the coming years. This waste is just one side-effect of ecommerce. 

By 2028 half of all sales are predicted to be made online. Each package that ships causes a toll on the environment. Many consumers have become accustomed to fast delivery and expect their packages to arrive in only a few days. This lightning delivery comes at a steep price. Freight movement is not only the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, last-mile freight is a major contributor to local air pollution, often in disadvantaged communities. Last-mile delivery growth will increase carbon emissions by 30% by 2030

Consumers care about sustainability

Consumers care now more than ever about the environment and how their purchasing decisions impact the planet. A study revealed that 70% of consumers in the U.S. and Canada think it is important that a brand is sustainable or eco-friendly. Furthermore, 69% of environmentally-conscious buyers willingly pay a premium for recycled products, and more than half of these buyers are ready to change their shopping habits to reduce the negative impact on the environment.

Younger generations are especially concerned about how their shopping habits affect the environment. 79% of Millennials cited sustainability as important in the products they purchase, and 75% of Gen Z said the same. With this desire for sustainability comes a growing spending power. Each year, Millennials alone spend over $600 billion dollars. If brands want to capture these audiences, and their growing spending power, they need to be meeting their demands for sustainability

Benefits of going sustainable

Besides the benefit of attracting new customers in the aforementioned segments, implementing sustainable practices is best for the planet. Plus, sustainability will help drive customer loyalty, and boost brand image. Consumers are looking for sustainable brands to champion and be loyal to. 

In fact, 71% of consumers prefer buying from brands that share their values. By meeting consumers at causes they care about, you can gain their trust and support in the long-run. Developing a strong brand image is top of mind for most. By implementing more eco-friendly practices, your brand will stand out as one that cares about the environment and is willing to do something about it. 

6 sustainable changes your brand can make 

There’s several different ways for you to get started with sustainability, or to improve upon your current practices. Here are some ideas for you to consider.

1. Manufacturing 

When looking for partners, consider those who follow LEED building standards. Other standards to look out for are TRUE Zero Waste certification and B Lab certification for social and environmental performance.

An additional resource is the Green Business Bureau. You can search through it to see if your potential, or existing, partners are listed as members. Membership could indicate that they have made investments in greener material choices, greener transportation practices, cleaner energy portfolios and low- or zero-waste commitments.

2. Eco-friendly packaging

When it comes to packaging, you should be looking to do two things. First eliminate all excess packaging possible. Second, what you can’t eliminate, replace with a more sustainable option. 

Unless you can find a sustainable alternative, most decorative packaging materials like confetti and tissue paper should be avoided altogether. More concretely, too-big boxes, individual plastic bags, marketing collateral, paper invoices, and other common items shipped alongside items can add up to unnecessary waste and an unnecessarily large carbon footprint. 

When looking for sustainable alternatives to the packaging you can’t eliminate, there is an increasing supply of compostable, recycled, or post-consumer material mailers and boxes that your brand can use to get your products to their destination. Even small switches to compostable labels or biodegradable packing peanuts can make a big difference, especially if you are sending out a high volume of orders. 

3. Develop a recycling program

One cause of waste can be your products themselves, and where they end up once they’ve reached end of life.  Some products, such as food items or beauty products, inevitably have short life cycles and end up in landfills sooner than goods like clothing, electronics, or furniture. If your goods have a shorter life cycle, or are hard to be disposed of properly like electronics, consider how you can take over the recycling or disposal of your products. 

Not only will you find ways to offer more sustainable products, you will be able to be more transparent with your customers about your supply chain so that they can be confident you have the planet in mind when considering all aspects of your business. A recycling program can also be part of a rewards program, in which you offer a discount on your customer’s next purchase for recycling their current products with you.

4. Partner with well-known organizations

There’s a variety of organizations that are well-known, and by partnering with them your consumers will recognize the positive impact they have.  By working with 1% for the Planet, brands help tackle global environmental issues. The 1% for the Planet certification is given to businesses that donate 1% of annual sales to environmental causes. 

Brands can also look into becoming a Certified B Corporation. Certified B Corporations are legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment. This lends to a community of leaders, driving a global movement of people using business as a force for good

5. Shipping

Moving products from warehouses to fulfillment centers to their final destination can be only a small percentage of an item’s total carbon footprint. However, that does not mean a brand should ignore this contribution to their carbon footprint. 

Package and ship entire orders in the same package, rather than spread out into multiple. You can also offer to bundle orders if a customer places multiple orders in a short time-frame. If your products ship from multiple warehouses or multiple fulfillment centers, consider offering small discounts if customers fill their carts with items from the same distribution location.

6. Utilize carbon offsetting

When it comes to areas that you can’t reduce or optimize any more, look to leveraging carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting is a strategy used to reduce the negative effects of a specific carbon-emitting activity through funding projects and ventures designed to soak up the resultant emissions, give back to severely impacted communities, and even reduce future emissions.

EcoCart is a great tool to help brands measure their carbon footprint, and then offset it. EcoCart is a free plugin you can use to offer your customers carbon neutral orders, offsetting manufacturing and shipping footprints. By clicking a button at checkout, your customers can be on their wait to a more sustainable shopping experience. EcoCart supports verified carbon offsetting projects that work to actively reduce, or prevent carbon from entering the atmosphere. 

Conclusion

Ecommerce is growing, and with it so is the environmental impact. Savvy consumers are aware of this and are taking action by demanding more from the brands they support. Becoming a sustainable brand is not something you can do overnight, but there are plenty of ways to implement new initiatives and improve upon existing ones. By working to create a more sustainable brand, you will be sure to capture new audiences and increase the loyalty of your existing customers. 

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