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For a brief moment in 2021, COP26 dethroned another infamous combination of capital letters and numbers as the most talked about topic in the world. A large number of decisive nations met with one principal objective; to get the world to commit to reducing carbon emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe. We’re not going to dive into the successes and failures of COP26. However, we will say that the event did shine an important light on the significance of climate change and sustainability. But where does sustainable e-commerce fit into this?

The future of sustainable e-commerce

The EU targets to reduce emissions by at least 55% by the end of 2030. Considering the growth of e-commerce (especially international e-commerce), online retailers can play a huge part in realising this 55%.

Sustainable e-commerce should be at the forefront of every ambitious online retailer in 2022. For many, the first hurdle is knowing where and how to start becoming more eco-friendly. This blog will provide tangible possibilities on how you can help make e-commerce more sustainable. From auditing your supply chain and choosing eco-friendly packaging, to reducing your carbon footprint and green shipping methods; we’ve got you covered.

We’ll also be revealing some insights from our extensive 2021 consumer research. You’ll get a greater understanding of what your customers want and need, plus what your competitors will be focusing on. So go grab yourself a fairtrade coffee and let’s get started.

Sustainable e-commerce benefits everyone including you

Maybe your intentions for becoming green shouldn’t be rooted (see what I did there?) in how it can benefit your business. But the simple truth is that it does. Society is far more engaged, informed, and conscious of the environmental impact all businesses have on our beloved planet. Therefore, becoming a green-friendly business will impact your reputation in a positive manner. But how?

Boost customer satisfaction and customer loyalty

Being an environmentally conscious e-commerce business shows you care. It demonstrates that you’re engaged in social discourse and are a forward-thinking brand that is not strictly interested in profit.

Today, online shoppers increasingly want to align themselves with brands that have strong green credentials. Particularly those within the Millenials and Generation Z (colloquially known as “Zoomers”) age brackets. Our 2021 consumer research found that 59% of millennials and zoomers said that they expect online stores to offer green delivery options in 2022 and beyond.

Be a leader; stand out from the crowd

Despite there being a clear appetite, our research found that only 1% of retailers offer green delivery services in 2021. There’s an obvious gap here that your business should take advantage of. First of all, going green is a wonderful initiative. And second of all, 74% of online shoppers revealed that green delivery plays an important part in their purchase decision. With 15% revealing they’d use a store that offers green delivery over one that doesn’t – never ignore those micro-gains.

Why not be a pioneering e-commerce brand and get ahead of your competitors?

Sustainable e-commerce saves you money

And it’s not just because recycled packaging is becoming more cost-effective. Boosting customer satisfaction and loyalty (which being sustainable does) massively reduces returns. Plus, winning a new customer can cost anywhere between 5 to 25 times more than retaining an existing one. Building customer loyalty through sustainable business practices will start paying dividends in no time.

The first steps to becoming a sustainable e-commerce brand

Below, we’ve listed four important first steps you should make in your business to start becoming more eco-friendly.

Audit your supply chain

Understanding where and how your products are produced is vital for being sustainable. A thorough audit of your procurement and supply chain should give you an idea of the following:

  • How environmentally friendly your goods are including all their components. 
  • How far they have to travel to from where they and their components are produced.
  • Other environmental impacts, including refrigeration, special packaging, and time-sensitive delivery requirements.  

Once you have completed your audit, you can identify sustainable opportunities. For example, cutting down transit by working with suppliers that are more local or sourcing goods that are created using more environmentally friendly materials.

While this article focuses on environmental impact, protecting human rights is an important part of building a more sustainable world. When you are checking the source of your goods, keep the labour practices associated with that territory in mind, and make enquiries if you have concerns.

Review your packaging

Sending a pair of sunglasses in a box fit for a snooker table probably isn’t that eco-friendly. Plus, may I rant for a second? As a customer who has received a few too many oversized packages, I can confirm – it’s bloody irritating. And not to mention, it looks… rubbish. It’s always stuffed with that gorgeous brown paper or those odd polystyrene wotsits – it’s just not a good look. Right, rant over.

Using less packaging and choosing environmentally-friendly materials is one of the easiest ways to make e-commerce more sustainable. 41% of our survey respondents said that the packaging materials of products ordered online should be fully recyclable. And this figure rises to a whopping 71% when only looking at Gen Z and Millennials.

Your sustainability efforts shouldn’t stop with the outer packaging. With global consumption of pulp and paper expected to double between 2010 and 2060 why not go paperless with invoices? You could also use thermal printers to help save on ink, consolidate packages, ditch unnecessary plastic bags, opt for biodegradable labels, and reuse packaging altogether – your eco-options are endless.

Choose green shipping

While you can’t offset the environmental impact of your shipping completely, you can work with couriers that offer carbon-neutral or reduced carbon shipping. For example (*takes deep breath*), UPS and Hermes offer carbon-neutral delivery; DHL uses bicycles and e-vehicles, DPD has committed to a 14% reduction in C02 emissions per parcel; FedEx has committed to carbon-neutral operations by 2040; while Royal Mail reduced their carbon emissions by 31.9% in 2020… Aaaaand breathe.

Quick plug: You shouldn’t restrict yourself to working with one courier. With Sendcloud, you can choose from a variety of shipping providers. Find out more here.

Important: Our research revealed that customers are interested in CO2-neutral delivery. However, they are not willing to pay too much extra, especially on higher value orders. 42% of respondents said they wouldn’t pay extra for CO2-neutral delivery on orders over €50, rising to 47% for packages over €150. Make sure you consider this in your pricing strategy for both orders and returns.

Adapt your returns policies and processes

Returns have a considerable impact on the environment. You’re essentially doubling the carbon emissions. Make sure all your product descriptions are accurate and include additional sizing information or FAQs that will help your customers make the right decision and help cut down on returns.

Conclusion

And so we reach the end of our introductory guide to sustainable e-commerce in 2022 and beyond. We hope you are now armed with the knowledge and ideas you need to start reducing your environmental impact. As an e-commerce retailer, there are so many opportunities to boost your sustainability strategy and many benefits to be enjoyed.

Looking at our consumer research, it’s evident that environmental awareness increases among Generation Z’s and Millennials. As your business and the market matures, it’s important to keep a close eye on green developments and how attitudes and expectations evolve. Take some time to review your current situation and see what environmental wins you can make in both the short and long term. Then hatch a plan to make it happen.

Don’t forget to promote your environmental credentials on your website, packaging, social media and throughout the buyer journey. Your customers are seeking out environmentally conscious and ethical e-commerce retailers. Why not do all you can to ensure you are the one they choose?

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