Sustainability is no longer the domain of trendy, buzz-worthy direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands. These days, eCommerce companies of all shapes and sizes are looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact and carbon footprint by investing in sustainable business practices. Many are seeing some pretty impressive economic impacts as a result of these efforts as well. Let’s examine sustainable eCommerce and see what it looks like in practice.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE ECOMMERCE?
The UN World Commission on Environment and Development offers perhaps the most comprehensive definition of sustainability. “Sustainable development,” it says, “is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In this sense, sustainability is all about being mindful of the long-term global impacts of the modern conveniences we take for granted. This awareness is especially relevant to eCommerce, an industry built on convenience.
Consumers are beginning to realize the conveniences they’ve grown accustomed to with eCommerce—speedy shipping, elaborate plastic packaging, etc.—do not align with their own efforts to live more sustainably. Because of this, consumers are beginning to shift their buying habits, seeking out eCommerce brands that prioritize sustainability in all aspects of their business.
In a recent Accenture survey of 6,000 consumers in North America, Europe, and Asia, 72% of respondents said they are actively buying more environmentally-friendly products, with 81% saying they expect to buy more in the next five years.
Because of these shifting consumer preferences, eCommerce brands are finding that embracing sustainable business practices is not only better for the environment and the world at large, but makes good economic sense as well. The growth of the sustainable eCommerce ethos has seen brands reimagine everything from product packaging, to shipping practices, to even their business models.
CAN ECOMMERCE BRANDS BE SUSTAINABLE AND PROFITABLE?
The short answer is yes. With more and more consumers valuing sustainability practices and choosing brands based on them, it is possible for brands to differentiate themselves accordingly and generate more revenue as a result. However, it’s not quite that simple.
Implementing sustainable business practices can be costly for eCommerce companies, and may not net the return on investment (ROI) required to justify such spending. This is due to the fact that not all consumers are concerned with sustainability when making purchases. Millennials and Gen Z’ers are more likely to embrace brands that make a concerted effort to be sustainable, whereas baby boomers may not value sustainability as much when it comes to purchasing. If economics is the primary motivator behind potentially going sustainable, brands need to take a hard look at their target markets in terms of demographics to determine if any changes will be embraced—and expand their customer base.
HOW CAN ECOMMERCE BRANDS BE MORE SUSTAINABLE?
Consumers will no longer settle for long shipping timeframes. The recent explosion in eCommerce has made consumers expect swift and speedy shipping. Unfortunately, this means that order deliveries have a significant carbon footprint. Thankfully, major carriers have begun to implement eco-friendly, long-term sustainability goals. FedEx has even pledged to achieve carbon-neutral operations by 2040. It’s worth it to research carrier sustainability programs to determine if there are opportunities for your brand to take advantage of carbon-offset programs.
One way for eCommerce brands to reduce their environmental impact is to adjust how they package products to use less material—or use recyclable or biodegradable packaging. Traditionally packing materials—think packing peanuts, plastic wrap, styrofoam, etc.—constitute waste, plain and simple. This waste, unable to be recycled or repurposed, inevitably ends up in landfills. Investing in recyclable or biodegradable packing materials prevents your stuff from ending up in landfills, something your customers will appreciate.
SUSTAINABILITY IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN
For many eCommerce brands, the actual production of products generates the most environmental impacts. In order to be truly sustainable, it’s important that companies review their entire supply chains objectively to identify areas for improvement. This could include implementing renewable energy sources for manufacturing facilities, investing in low-energy lighting, deploying more eco-friendly heating and cooling systems in warehouses, and more. This is perhaps a big ask for many brands due to the complex nature of supply chains, but looking for any areas for improvement can be extremely beneficial to your company’s long-term sustainability approach.
WHY SUSTAINABILITY IS AN INCREASINGLY IMPORTANT ASPECT OF YOUR HOLIDAY PLANNING AND MARKETING STRATEGY
With numerous brands in full planning mode for the upcoming holiday season, it’s a good time to determine if sustainability will be a significant part of your sales and marketing strategies. If you’ve determined that you want to implement sustainable practices in time for the holiday season—or you’ve already implemented these practices—it’s time to start thinking about getting the message across to your customers.
Consider the following questions when putting together your marketing strategy for the holiday season:
- How will your brand be adjusted to incorporate your sustainability commitment? New logo? New product imagery?
- How do you plan to transparently communicate your sustainability efforts and goals?
- Will your sustainability goals directly affect your products? If so, how do you plan to let your customers know (especially returning customers)?
- If you’ve adopted new shipping and packaging methods, will customers experience any disruptions in delivery or service? If so, how do you plan to manage expectations and possible issues?
PROVIDING FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Here at Codal, we’re big on making the digital world a friendlier place. But we also care deeply about treating the physical world with respect. We love to support businesses and organizations looking to use technology to effectively manage resources to provide for the long-term health of our Earth. Interested in learning more about how technology can power your sustainable eCommerce brand? Talk to Codal today.