The Rise of Green E-commerce: How Online Businesses Can be More Eco-friendly

The rise of green e-commerce: how online businesses can be more eco-friendly

80% of consumers in a survey by NRF and IBM said that sustainability is important to them. Meanwhile, about 60% are willing to change their shopping habits to be more sustainable. 

Whether it was Greta Thunberg’s protests on preserving the planet, the recent wave of abnormal floods, or simply the ongoing rise of awareness, sustainability, and environmental concerns are top of mind for today’s consumers. This wave of green consumerism is pushing many online retail brands – big and small – to take action by adopting sustainable or eco-friendly ways to mitigate their carbon footprint. 

Many more customers are beginning to realize and question just how traditional supply chain and shipping models wreak havoc on the environment.   

The dark side of ‘click-from-couch’ 

Although e-commerce produces 36% fewer emissions in comparison to in-store shopping as per a report by MIT, this increasing click-from-couch behavior within the last couple of years even for the smallest of things is stacking up on the carbon emissions. 

Walmart carried out a self-audit and found that “e-commerce, on average, tends to produce more emissions per item for three reasons: e-commerce requires additional packaging, customers purchase fewer items per online transaction, and multi-item orders often result in multiple deliveries.”

In short, more polluting vehicles and packaging waste is killing the planet

Quite often, for products ordered by online shoppers, trucks are underutilized, delivering only a small number of packages. A lot of these packages contain individual products that are shipped via different carriers. This puts more vehicles on the roads contributing to carbon emissions. 

And let’s not forget about the packaging – the total amount of cardboard used for packaging each year equates to a shocking 1 billion trees. Meanwhile, other packaging materials like plastic, tape, or bubble wrap have their own individual fair share of landfill waste, which, by the way, often isn’t or can’t be recycled.

And this waste continues to pile up. If Captain Planet and the Planeteers weren’t fictional characters of a 90’s TV show, most of these businesses would be shut down by now. But it’s all the more reason why it’s critical that online businesses adopt a sustainable approach. 

Sustainability benefits everyone: people, planet, & businesses 

In the mid-’90s John Elkington, a serial entrepreneur, coined the idea of the triple bottom line. The idea is based on business profitability centered around “people, planet, and profit.” Elkington’s idea defines how a business while being more responsible towards the environment and people can still generate profits.  

The idea is simple – by implementing social good and practicing ethical and sustainable practices businesses can stand out as leaders – eventually leading to increased profitability.

Many brands, big and small, are already striving towards achieving net-zero carbon emissions

Brands such as Nike and Adidas – employing the triple bottom line concept –  have taken the lead on sustainability, establishing themselves as more forward-thinking and competitive. 

Nike intends to power its facilities entirely with renewable energy by 2025 and is aiming to function with net-zero carbon emissions. They claim to repurpose more than 90% of the waste from Air sole materials to create new, inventive cushioning systems.

Patagonia is another prominent brand making a difference. Well-known for its sustainability and environmental activism, Patagonia switched to organic cotton, and a high proportion of its materials are made from recycled fabrics, including polyester, nylon, and wool. Rejecting fast-fashion, it produces high-quality, long-lasting goods and provides a repair and reuse program as well. The brand had 40% growth over the last year and has pledged to become a carbon-neutral company by 2025.

Sustainability doesn’t just save the planet, but it also helps businesses stand out in the market of beacons of societal responsibility.   

How can e-commerce businesses be more eco-friendly?

Being environmentally conscious is important for more than just customer-facing products and brands. E-commerce businesses very often overlook the supply chain and how it contributes to carbon emissions. 

That’s one area where Untuckit wins big. In addition to using ethically sourced materials for production, that’s another area where it reduced its carbon footprint. It uses recyclable and biodegradable materials for shipping products, reducing its carbon footprint further. 

Here are a few ways your e-commerce business can stave off its supply chain emissions and be more sustainable.   

1. Switch to sustainable delivery and packaging

Packaging waste is obviously one of the biggest drawbacks of online shopping, and anyone who has ever purchased a small item from Amazon and had a canoe-sized box delivered to their house knows this full well. All that plastic, tape, and bubble wrap only add to the carbon emissions. 

Fortunately, many of the large mail service providers are now taking part in eco-friendly initiatives that use recycled shipping materials as well as paperless invoicing and tracking options. Many of these couriers also provide their customers with additional green and sustainable programs that allow shoppers to offset carbon emissions from their deliveries.

While these options aren’t as great as outright eliminating the need for exterior boxing and packaging materials (as micro-fulfillment with Ohi does), they are a step in the right direction for traditional delivery companies like UPS, FedEx, USPS, and DHL.

As for eco-friendly packaging – there are many options available to choose from as compared to a few years back when there were limited options available. You can opt for recyclable packaging i.e cardboard boxes, molded pulp packaging, etc. 

Or you can choose reusable packaging like glass milk bottles, pallets, or shipping containers, etc. 

There’s a third option- compostable packaging. It degrades faster than other materials. When deciding which type of packaging to go for, it’s important to keep in mind how it complements your specific product.

2. Team up with an eco-friendly fulfillment partner

For many businesses, the supply chain is the largest source of emissions. By teaming up with instant commerce or micro-fulfillment partners like Ohi, brands can offer fast and sustainable fast shipping to meet customer expectations. 

As a matter of fact, sustainable DTC organic beverage brand Health-Ade and eco-friendly apparel brand Untuckit both rely on Ohi to deliver their products sustainably in their largest metro areas. Health-Ade has enjoyed a 49% increase in its customer lifetime value (CLV) as a result of its sustainable micro-fulfillment strategy. 

How does Ohi add value to e-commerce brands with sustainability and fast shipping?

Having crossed out the air or long ground routes from the equation, our fast delivery generates the least carbon emissions because products are shipped from fulfillment centers that are located very close to customers. It’s sustainable and green because we use bike/e-bike/scooter couriers and foot couriers in densely populated urban areas, instead of vans or bikes, reducing our carbon footprint.   

In fact, Ohi deliveries were shown to be 22x more eco-friendly than next-day air and 5x more eco-friendly than 3-5 day ground.

As far as packaging is concerned, as opposed to traditional packaging that involves plastic or cardboard waste, Ohi encourages the use of eco-friendly reusable totes for 2-hour and same-day deliveries whenever possible. 

But we realized that despite our efforts to offer sustainable delivery, there was some residual carbon footprint left. So we teamed up with EcoCart, a sustainability technology that helps businesses calculate and offset their carbon emissions.

Our partnership with EcoCart allows Ohi to calculate and address the rest of the residual carbon footprint through carbon offsets and provide a carbon-neutral delivery.

3. Offset your carbon footprint (i.e. with EcoCart)

Everything produces emissions, but by using carbon offsets, you can neutralize the carbon you produce by donating to a forest protection project that prevents deforestation.

One of the easiest ways to do that is via EcoCart. EcoCart’s plugin for e-commerce businesses determines the emissions produced by your online business and allows your business (or your customers) to offset exactly the amount of emissions an order has produced.

Adopting the above-mentioned sustainable practices will help your e-commerce business stand out from your competitors while making a lasting difference for the environment. After all, there is only one planet Earth, and it’s our collective responsibility to take care of it.