Ecommerce and its environmental impact is a hotly debated topic. Is ecommerce more eco-friendly than standard brick-and-mortar retail? What happens to all the shipping materials used in ecommerce? Are more emissions produced in a two-day or 14-day shipping window?
While this post won’t put any of these topics to rest, it will shed light on some easy-to-implement ideas that can reduce the environmental impact of your online store. Putting eco-friendliness into practice is not only good for the environment, but also for your bottom line.
Read through these seven options and think about what will resonate with your audience. If you can implement even one of these strategies, you’ll reduce your business’s environmental footprint and make customers feel good at the same time.
Sell eco-friendly products
The most effective way to run an eco-friendly store is to sell products that have minimal negative impacts on the environment. We know, this is easier said than done. You most likely already have your product collection dialled in, but to wrap your head around the environmental impact of your store, take a close look at your products and ask these questions:
- Are your products biodegradable?
- Do your products reduce post-consumer waste? (e.g. Will your products end up in a landfill, or could they be reused or upcycled?)
- Are your products made to last?
- Are your products made with organic materials? (e.g. Did you know that clothing made with organic cotton requires fewer chemicals?)
- Do your products help customers cut emissions?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, well done! If not, consider researching suppliers who could help you fall into that “yes” category.
Abeego is a plastic food wrap alternative made out of breathable beeswax. The brand is dedicated to reducing food waste with a product that helps food last longer and stay fresher. They could easily say “yes” to all of the above questions.
“Like any living thing, food needs to breathe. It can’t survive in an airtight plastic environment,” says Abeego Founder Toni Desrosiers. “As food prices rise and consumers become aware of food waste in their own home, we’re the tool they reach for to keep food out of the compost. We can help them save food, time, and money.” , Abeego Founder and CEO
Switching to a more eco-friendly product catalog like Abeego’s isn’t going to happen overnight. Start by identifying the changes you can make in the immediate future, and plan for more labour-intensive changes down the road.
Promoting your eco-friendly decisions will speak to your customers and build brand loyalty among those who share that value. Be sure to let customers know about your commitment to eco-friendliness in your About page, product descriptions, and blog posts.
Source materials from local suppliers
If you manufacture your products, you’ve likely done extensive research on available suppliers. Factoring in price point, quality, and reputation is obviously important, but if you’re interested in eco-friendliness, don’t forget to also take into account where they’re located.
Using local suppliers is not only good for the environment, it’s also good for business. Partnering with local businesses means you can:
- See and touch materials before you buy them
- Form a more human relationship with suppliers
- Keep money in your local economy
Miiko Skin Co. is a plant-based natural skin care company that works exclusively with local suppliers.
“By choosing local suppliers and local ingredients for our products, we invest huge sums of money back into the local economy and marketplace,” says the brand’s founder, Kimiko Foster. “When sourcing packing paper, packing tape, bottles, labels, and ingredients, they all need to arrive from different locations, only to be packaged up and shipped away again. The less distance travelled, the fewer carbon emissions.”
Working with local suppliers also allows Miiko Skin Co. to receive inventory in shorter timeframes, saving overhead costs and keeping the supply chain moving. They can also piggyback onto their suppliers’ marketing, effectively cross-promoting their brand and products to new audiences.
Give back to a green cause
One of the best eco-friendly moves you can make is giving back to a green cause. Aligning your brand with an environmental organization makes customers feel good about their purchase, as they know some of their money is going to a good cause. The numbers back this up, with 90% of Americans more likely to buy from brands that support social causes.
The key to making the greatest impact is choosing an organization that aligns with your brand values and resonates with your audience.
Ocean & Co. is an ecommerce business that sells eco-friendly, ocean-themed jewellery, apparel, and drinkware. Their brand is all about protecting the ocean from pollution—specifically plastics. Both the brand and its customers are passionate about the ocean and the animals that call it home. For this reason, Ocean & Co. donates to organizations like Lonely Whale and One Less Straw that further their mission of protecting the ocean.
Similarly, The Landmark Project, an online store selling apparel inspired by US National Parks, donates a portion of proceeds to the US Forest Service’s efforts in wildfire prevention education.
There may not always be an obvious choice when it comes to aligning your business with an eco-friendly organization. If you’re struggling to find one, consider polling your customers or asking your social media audience.
It may also not always be financially viable for your business. If it’s not, consider running a promotion where you donate a certain amount of proceeds over a period of time. This can be a great way of encouraging sales at slower times of the year while also giving to a good cause.
Use reusable (or up-cyclable) packaging
When it comes to the environment, one of the most devastating aspects of ecommerce is the amount of packaging involved. We’ve all been there. Our Amazon package arrives, we open a modest-sized box, pull out a bunch of bubble wrap, and find another box that could have easily been sent without all that extra packaging.
We get it. It’s not wise to advertise what you’re sending by mailing it in its original box. That’d be a porch pirate’s dream.
And while most packaging is recyclable, recycling itself uses up a lot of energy—not to mention a lot of recycled materials end up in landfills. Remember the old adage, “reduce, reuse, recycle?” There’s a reason reduce and reuse are listed first.
If you’re unable to reduce packaging, consider what your packaging could be reused for.
Joco Cups ship their reusable glass cups in thick, cylindrical cardboard that acts the same as a mail tube. Inside, they promote reusing the packaging in various ways around the house. From piggy banks to pencil holders, there’s no shortage of uses for the high-quality packaging. As a bonus, their branding sits as a friendly reminder around customers’ houses.
Promote eco-friendliness on your products
It’s one thing to use eco-friendly materials and promote your products’ eco-friendliness, but it can be just as effective to promote eco-friendliness on the products themselves.
You know that one friend who’s always talking about their Crossfit training? Or the other who’ll let you know they’re vegan every opportunity they get? There’s a reason they do it. It’s because doing Crossfit and practising veganism are both good things to tell your friends.
The same goes for promoting eco-friendliness on your products. If your customers value the environment, they’ll likely want to show it off.
Province of Canada is an online apparel store selling Canadian-made goods. While they’ve always been environmentally conscious in the materials they use, in 2019 they made a few big eco-friendly moves. In addition to switching to 100% recyclable and compostable packaging, they redesigned their tote bags to reflect their positive effect on the environment.
“We’ve carried an assortment of made-in-Canada canvas totes since launching the brand in 2014,” says co-founder Jeremy Watt. “We’ve always thought of them as a simple but perfect representation of who we are as a social conscience brand. That said, it wasn’t until we doubled down on improving our environmental footprint with recyclable packaging that we thought, ‘Let’s get literal with this message and give our customers the chance to spread the word’.”
He hopes customers will bring their bag to the grocery store, and someone else will read, “This tote has replaced _____ plastic bags,” and it will inspire them to reduce their footprint.
“The kicker?” Jeremy says. “We think it looks cool, and cool tends to sell. It’s a win-win-win product.”
Analyze your shipping efficiency
One of the most negative—and yet unavoidable—environmental impacts of ecommerce is the emissions produced by shipping. Between 1990 and 2013, freight activity grew by over 50 percent and is projected to nearly double again by 2040. And while it’s unlikely you’ll completely mitigate your contribution to these emissions, there are steps you can take to minimize them.
SmartWay is a tool you can use to set, track, and analyze transportation efficiency. Striving to cut the emissions associated with your business allows you to demonstrate your ecommerce responsibility, exhibit your leadership, and manage your risk.
Run an Earth Day promotion
Earth Day (April 22) marks the anniversary of the modern environmental movement that started in 1970. Depending on your brand’s stance when it comes to environmental action, this day could entail a big promotion, a simple social media post, or nothing at all.
If any of the ideas we’ve mentioned in this post have resonated with you, consider weaving them into an Earth Day promotion. A one-day sale can act as a good testing ground to see how making eco-friendly business decisions resonates with your audience.
Here are a few ideas to try out on Earth Day:
- Launch a product that uses eco-friendly materials
- Give a portion of proceeds to a green cause
- Sell a product that promotes eco-friendliness
- Deliver all local orders via bicycle delivery
Everlane is an ethical fashion brand leading the fight against fast fashion and its many detriments. This Earth Day, they’ve combined many of the ideas we’ve mentioned in this post to educate their customers on the importance of protecting the environment.
The products in their Climate Collection are ethically made and promote environmental protection through their “Truth” message. On top of focusing on eco-friendly products, the brand has also partnered with The New York Times to provide nine public school students access to all NYT content for an entire year to promote education around environmental issues.
Every piece in this collection is currently sold out.
The scope of ecommerce and its impact on the environment is huge and understandably overwhelming. Don’t feel like you need to upend your entire business and start using carrier pigeons to ship your products. That’s unrealistic.
Instead, look at your business as a whole, and work through how you might be able to implement one or two of the ideas in this post into your everyday practices. From there, take note of what’s working and what’s not, and adjust your eco-friendly strategy accordingly.
Is there anything else you’re doing to run a more eco-friendly online store? Let us know in the comments!