How eCommerce Businesses Can Be More Sustainable

How eCommerce Businesses Can Be More Sustainable
Embracing sustainability doesn’t require you to change everything about your business, but it does require you to evolve your practices in ways that can make a difference. Here are some ways to improve sustainability at your eCommerce company.
by Madelyn Young Sep 29, 2021 — 3 min read
How eCommerce Businesses Can Be More Sustainable

Over two billion people purchased goods or services online in 2020, according to Statista. During the same year, e-retail sales surpassed 4.2 trillion U.S. dollars worldwide. And with all of these ecommerce transactions comes real life footprints.

For retailers, eCommerce comes with shipping. And with shipping comes boxes, transportation emissions, and a lot of plastic packaging material, meaning that every one of those purchases ultimately had an impact on the environment.

Making your eCommerce business more sustainable not only reduces your environmental impact, but also helps you better appeal to sustainability-minded consumers: A 2019 study found that 80% of consumers in North America, Europe, and Asia felt it was “important or extremely important” for companies to design environmentally conscious products. 72% of study respondents reported that they were actively buying more environmentally friendly products than they did five years ago, while 81% said they expected to buy even more over the next five years. Consumers with those inclinations are more likely to buy from brands that employ eco-friendly practices.

Embracing sustainability doesn’t require you to change everything about your business, but it does require you to evolve your practices in ways that can make a difference. Here are some ways to improve sustainability at your eCommerce company.

Embrace eco-friendly shipping practices

Making your shipping process more sustainable is one of the simplest ways to reduce your environmental impact.

Cut down on returns

Returns and exchanges eat up a lot of transportation emissions, shipping expenses, and packaging waste. Here are some ways to reduce the number of returns your eCommerce business receives:

Stock eco-friendly products

Depending on what kinds of goods you sell, there may be a strong opportunity for you to partner with manufacturers or suppliers with sustainable practices (and advertise your business as a seller of sustainable products).

Seek out items to sell that are reusable or come in sustainable packaging, and in the case of food products, made from ingredients that are organic or cruelty-free. Consider offering items in your eCommerce store that help your customers reduce their environmental impacts, such as LED bulbs or compost bins.

Also, try to reduce the number of goods you sell that have to be imported from far-off locations. Buy goods (in bulk) from local manufacturers, suppliers, and makers whenever possible. (Check out MakersRow if you’re looking to source a U.S.-based manufacturer.)

Recycle and reduce energy waste

Being sustainable isn’t just about your customer-facing products and policies. It’s also about how you run your business. 

Internally, it’s important to make sure your business has a recycling policy in place and that employees are trained to follow it. Simple steps like investing in low-energy lighting, unplugging equipment when not in use, utilizing recycled office supplies, and keeping office temperatures low can also make a difference (and should be part of your office policies). 

And, if you’re especially concerned about your electricity consumption, look into a commercial energy audit: Your energy provider or a private company may be willing to conduct an assessment of your energy use and point out ways to improve.

Give back to the environment 

Carbon-neutral shipping isn’t the only way to offset your business’s environmental impact. Depending on your margins and your level of commitment to sustainability, there’s always more you can do to give back what you take (or contribute to sustainability-minded causes). 

You can directly purchase carbon offsets, for example, to compensate for your emissions when flying or shipping packages the traditional way. (Look for carbon offset companies that are certified by auditors or standards groups like Green-e or The Gold Standard.) You may also opt to incorporate charity into your business — perhaps by donating a portion of your profits or a cut from every purchase to an environmentally focused 501(c)(3). 

Making a Difference

Sustainability is an area where every effort counts. Being good to the environment and reducing wasteful and harmful practices is a shared responsibility of all businesses; making your eCommerce business more sustainable — no matter your starting point — is a smart commitment to the future of your company (and to the health of the planet). 

Madelyn Young
Madelyn Young is a Brooklyn-based writer covering business-, finance-, and technology-related topics. Prior to going freelance in 2018, Madelyn spent ten years as an in-house writer and editor for various B2B startups, agencies, and media companies – first in Cleveland, OH, then Miami, FL, then NYC.


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