The world is changing. The new generations are no longer interested in brands that say they are sustainable but show no transparency or action. In the coming years, and even now, eCommerce sustainability will be the only way to thrive.
Almost 50% of consumers say that the pandemic has made them think about the environment more when making purchases, according to a study by Kearney. Since 2020, the number of consumers who care about sustainability has increased.
About 78% of those surveyed said that companies could be doing more to help. It highlights a realisation among the consumers that they can make businesses take action if they want to do business.
To illustrate how your eCommerce business can combine sustainability and profits, we are going to look at a company called Danone.
The company is a prime example of what happens when real efforts and plans are drawn up specifically to further the business while protecting the consumers and promoting sustainability.
The younger generation is less likely to compromise on sustainability. For instance, they could choose to buy from businesses that only use sustainable eCommerce packaging.
So, how can your business change to be more responsible?
Steps to Move Toward Sustainable eCommerce
The eCommerce market is still growing as new markets open up. However, the planet is not fine. We have seen what irresponsible consumerism can do. More and more people care about the environment and consider it before making a purchase.
With apps like Buycott and Yuka, consumers can check out products that are produced sustainably to ensure they make companies adopt a sustainable business model.
Over 80% of consumers in the US said that they consider the environment before buying something. It seems that one thing is clear as we move ahead; sustainability and eCommerce will have to go hand in hand.
As customers place pressure on businesses to change their models and take a more sustainable approach, here are some things you can do to evolve with the times and transition to sustainability with ease.
Update Your Brand Ethos
Brand Ethos sounds like the kind of concept you’d spend a lot of time trying to figure out, and it may be. But, in the simplest sense, brand ethos refers to the skeleton of a brand’s identity.
Your ethos needs to exude sustainability, include actions taken towards that end, and be in line with the emerging markets and the welfare of our planet. The best way to hammer home the message is consistency across your websites, blogs, social media, video content, and the ‘About’ page.
You can emulate sustainable eCommerce brands that sometimes have dedicated pages detailing all they do for the planet.
To get it right, you have to:
- Know your audience’s beliefs, needs, characterisations, habits, and lifestyle.
- Be consistent in your tone, as it pertains to sustainability.
- Incorporate your identity into your design (logo, graphics, themes).
Make it easy for customers to know who you are and what your business stands for, by showing them the eCommerce sustainable business model you have implemented.
Implement Sustainable Shipping
The modern supply chains are insane, with over 164 billion packages shipped in the US alone. It has been shown that this doesn’t have to be the case and for those who care, solutions are available, that can help reduce the carbon footprint caused by shipping needs.
Some of the sustainable shipping measures you can take include:
- Recyclable packaging;
- Reducing packaging;
- Using thermal printers instead of ink;
- Joining eco-friendly programs by major carriers like UPS, USPS, and FedEx;
- Cut down on returned merchandise by offering all pertinent information to avoid shipping both ways.
As you settle into your niche, any chance you get to cut down on shipping waste is a chance to make your brand more sustainable and attractive to the changing market.
It is no secret that some of the worst offenders when it comes to packaging are big eCommerce companies like Amazon, who will send a toothbrush in a box the size of a printer. Nearly 50% of Americans think Amazon shipments include excess packaging (with variations across generations).
It seems obvious that businesses need to reduce packaging. So, how do you do that?
You can start by buying packaging in various sizes to fit smaller items. Boxes that are too big need more protection to prevent the items from bouncing around and probably getting damaged.
All you have to do is simply package your items in appropriately-sized boxes, which is possible with the help of providers like EcoEnclose, which offers compostable and biodegradable packaging that is also the right size for your items.
Create Recycling Policies
Apart from choosing sustainable materials for packaging and using appropriately-sized boxes, businesses can create recycling policies or produce environmentally friendly products.
Here are some stats to put this into context:
- 73% of Americans have access to curbside, and 94% have access to recycling in one form or another.
- When recycling cardboard, one only uses about 75% of the energy needed to make new cardboard.
- Recycling one ton of cardboard ensures that in a landfill somewhere, 9 cubic yards of space stay empty.
It begins to look very clear what we need to do and why we need to do it. Using mailers and boxes that can be recycled, makes it easy for customers to want to recycle them.
To that end, check out 4Ocean, an online retailer with a business model focused on sustainability. Its products are 100% recycled, and many aspects of the operation are sustainability-driven, providing a good model to study and emulate.
Reduce Energy Waste
Sustainability doesn’t have to start and end with recyclable packaging or sensible packaging. Other aspects of the business can also be optimised to help run things greener. How offices and warehouses are run, impacts energy.
A business can start by investing in renewable energy where applicable, use low-energy lighting (reduces temperatures in a room as well, offsetting air conditioning costs) and go paperless (for sustainable communication and record-keeping), among other things.
The first thing to do is an energy audit, which will reveal where cuts need to be made. You can then use the results of the audit to prioritise which parts of the business need the most change.
Add Products That Support Sustainability
Sometimes, it is not just about telling people to recycle. Sometimes, you have to encourage them to be sustainable. This could be a gentle reminder, an offer to plant a tree somewhere if they buy something sustainable, among other methods.
You can start changing your catalogue to be more sustainable or offering sustainable alternatives. For instance, if you are selling cleaning products, you can go with environmentally friendly cleaning products that don’t pollute.
For example, there is a company called LARQ, which makes self-cleaning water bottles that are visually pleasing, encouraging customers to keep and re-use them instead of opting for single-use plastics that usually end up in the ocean.
The company doesn’t stop there, since it also donates a portion of the proceeds gained, to an organisation called 1% for the Planet, to do even more for the planet.
Your Products Environmental Impact
It is possible to know how much carbon you are putting out. Many of the business operations, like shipping, add to the carbon in the atmosphere. Retailers who want to change things for the better use carbon offsets and data measuring to stay responsible.
For instance, there are tools like Just Salad’s carbon label, which they use for menu items. It tells customers how much carbon the purchases emit eventually.
The Good Tee, a Canadian apparel maker, also has an environmental impact meter for several products. It does not use carbon as a factor but processes data for water and energy use, chemicals not used for each garment, and emissions.
With such measures in place, customers know for sure that a business is concerned about eCommerce sustainability.
Share Your Company’s Vision for Sustainability
You could be doing a lot to save the environment from further ruin, but you cannot marry sustainability and profits if your potential audience doesn’t know about it. Your customers will be willing to partner with you in sustained shared thinking if you show them that you share a common goal.
A 2016 study by Label Insight showed that almost all (94%) of customers pledge to be loyal to brands that have product transparency.
You need to take down the curtains and let the customers know what you are doing every step of the way to be a better business. Let them know things like:
- How you source packaging.
- How you source materials for products.
- Are your shipping plans carbon-neutral?
- Where do your returned products go?
- Do you have shipping/product options that have the lightest impact?
To get a good example of how to communicate your sustainability, check out Reformation’s product sustainability page and the entire website. It is quite an eye-opener.
Danone’s Success Story
And now, we go back to Danone and why it is the prime example of a sustainability success story. The company says that its model is designed to give value to both the shareholders and society. Currently, it is working to become one of the first multinationals certified B Corp.
The company generated sales of €24.7 billion in 2017, showing that a business can indeed bring together sustainability and profits.
Danone uses a strategic plan, prioritising ‘local-first’. The former CEO Emmanuel Faber said that the company keeps its distance from the pyramidal heritage most organisations use. As such, the company listens to all markets to achieve sustained shared thinking and benefit all participants, including the planet.
Danone also boldly invested $11 billion to buy WhiteWave, the leader in organic foods. With a tag line as ambitious as ‘One Planet, One Health,’ the goals of Danone are beyond what most companies are doing.
They represent a clear proof of concept that it is possible to become sustainable and profitable. Faber, in his farewell letter to Danone, said that the company trailed the path of social and climate justice. He called it the only possible road for the market economy, asserting that it will impose itself on capitalism.
Faber’s prophetic words are an indication of what has already begun. Our industry can change to cater to the planet and a new market that insists we be accountable.
One thing is clear, environmental and eCommerce sustainability will have to exist side by side. Whatever it is you are doing to be sustainable, let your customers know. Clue them in on your long-term plans to go as green as it gets.
At WebMeridian, we offer an all-in-one service encompassing business and tech consulting. We specialise in solving problems and challenges for new businesses operating both offline and online.
We welcome you to talk to us about business and tech consulting to promote a better sustainability and profits marriage.