Eco-Friendly eCommerce: Sustainable Retail Examples

April 11, 2023
9 min read

Sustainable eCommerce is more than just a buzz-word: Both consumers and small midsized businesses (SMBs) are growing more concerned about the impact of eCommerce on the environment. Learn how businesses of all sizes can help build a more sustainable eCommerce industry, with examples of environmentally friendly brands that are leading the way.

Sustainable eCommerce Matters to Our Future

There’s no doubt that the eCommerce boom has changed the face of commerce, and now that it seems consumer shopping patterns may have changed for good, it’s time to step back and take a look at the environmental impacts of our new digital-first economy. 

Many argue that eCommerce is actually more sustainable than the traditional brick-and-mortar shopping model due to efficiencies in fulfillment and logistics. Even with increased demand for 1 to 2-day delivery, advancements in the logistics industry enable merchants to stock their inventory closer to their customers to lower time in transit and reduce next day air shipments (which emit nearly 6 times more carbon than ground shipments).

However, the environmental impact of final mile delivery can’t be overlooked. The eCommerce boom is expected to increase the number of final mile delivery vehicles on the road by 36% and increase greenhouse gas emissions by 30% overall by 2030. This likely does not account for the impact of reverse logistics. The return rate on ecommerce orders can be up to 35% higher than in-store purchases, and the method of return varies — from scheduled carrier pickups, to in-store returns, to dropoff centers. But no matter the transit mode, ecommerce returns and resale activity is estimated to create 10 billion unnecessary transportation trips each year.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about waste. Those returns often can’t be re-sold, or retailers will lose money on a resale. In 2022 alone, eCommerce returns generated 9.5 billion pounds of landfill waste while also accounting for CO2 emissions equivalent to adding 5.1 million cars to the road. Packaging- especially plastics- are creating an environmental emergency of their own. Oceana reports that Amazon’s plastic packaging waste jumped 18% from 2021 to 2022, contributing to the problem of littering the world’s oceans (33 billion pounds of plastic enter the ocean every year).

All of this adds up to a heavy burden placed on the environment by ecommerce activity. Businesses are starting to take notice and more importantly, consumers are starting to notice and carefully consider the environmental impact of their online purchases.

Sustainable eCommerce Matters to Consumers

According to a recent consumer survey, 88% of consumers say sustainability is important to their purchasing decisions, and 66% say sustainability has become more important to them since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Consumers say the most important sustainable eCommerce practices are:

  • Recycled packaging (47%)
  • Eco-friendly shipping practices (41%)
  • Carrying “green” brands (30%)
  • Promoting conversations about sustainability (26%)

And consumers are even willing to vote for sustainable business practices with their wallets. A full 66% of consumers said they would be more likely to purchase from a brand with a sustainable shipping option, as long as they could still receive their item in 2 days or less.

Sustainable eCommerce Matters to Small Midsized Businesses (SMBs)

A 2023 survey of 1,000 SMBs about the future of warehouse fulfillment found that 66% of respondents agree current eCommerce shipping models are not sustainable- for the environment or for their eCommerce business.

Many current models simply can’t balance sustainable eCommerce with 1-2 delivery, all while online shopping continues to become more popular and warehouse availability declines. In light of this, 39% of SMB decision makers have reevaluated their warehouse technology providers and costs.

The problem? While there is a clear line that can be drawn from operational efficiency to more sustainable eCommerce, SMBs are finding it difficult to find the right technology for logistics management:

  • 38% A desire for an end- to-end solution
  • 31% Ability to scale and automate
  • 36% Comprehensive logistics technology

However, SMBs are finding more sustainable eCommerce options, like co-warehousing and carbon neutral shipping.

5 Brands Leading the Charge in Sustainable eCommerce

Many brands are setting an example for how to meet consumer expectations and build environmentally friendly programs into their supply chain and beyond.

O2 is a healthy alternative to traditional recovery drinks with 50% more electrolytes than leading recovery drinks and 7x more oxygen than typical water. Their mission is to be a company that society is proud exists, and one way they’re pursuing that mission is sustainability in their supply chain through several programs:

  • Calculating and offsetting carbon emissions, becoming carbon neutral by April 2021
  • Working to remove all plastic from their products by the end of 2021, making them 100% plastic free
  • Sustainable packaging options like 100% compostable bags and labels, 60-70% recycled materials in their corrugate supply (working towards 100% recycled materials), and using recycled aluminum cans as opposed to virgin aluminum
  • Donating to wildlife conservation organizations and renewable energy

ALOHA is an organic plant-based protein brand that is USDA organic, certified vegan, and non-GMO. As a certified B-corp, they have met the highest standards of social and environmental sustainability. Besides their organically sourced ingredients, which naturally put less strain on the environment than conventionally farmed ingredients, they also provide food to communities in need and support nonprofits that provide much needed services in underserved areas. Their community partners include:

  • Social Works Chicago, which empowers youth through arts and education and provides free lunches for students in need.
  • Soul Fire Farm, which fights to end racism and injustice in the food system
  • West Hawaii Community Health Center, which provides medical, dental, and behavioral health care to families in Western Hawaii
  • Conscious Alliance, a network of creatives that use their time and talents to feed hungry families in Boulder, CO

Thousand Fell Shoes is closing the loop in the footwear industry. Their fashionable sneakers are made from sustainably sourced materials and are fully recyclable. When a wearer is finished with their Thousand Fell Shoes, they can return them to be either refurbished and given to someone in need or fully recycled. Shoppers never need to send another pair of sneakers to a landfill again.

Green Paper Products is on a mission to create a more sustainable food service industry with their plant-based, compostable paper products. With a full range of products from bags to takeout bowls, they’re helping businesses everywhere reduce the environmental impact of food service and particularly takeout.

Healthway is reimagining the world as a better, safer place through innovative air purification solutions. Their patented air filtration systems capture particles as small as 007 microns at 99.97% efficiency, but they consume 50-70% less energy than traditional indoor air purifiers. Ultimately, their ultra low-pressure drop systems have helped to reduce over 1,000 metric tonnes of carbon.

Final Mile: The Last Frontier in Sustainable eCommerce

The eCommerce industry must still face the dilemma that although consumers care about sustainable eCommerce business practices, they still expect fast shipping. The demand for 1 to 2-day delivery will continue to drive up carbon emissions if brands don’t step in to offer a more attractive alternative for shoppers.

This dilemma is what prompted Ware2Go to offset all carbon emissions within its 2-day delivery network. Through a partnership with Pachama, Ware2Go is calculating carbon emissions generated by all final mile deliveries within its network (small parcel ground, small parcel air, LTL, and FTL) and purchasing carbon credits that support reforestation, forest management, and forest protection efforts all over the world.

To help solve the cognitive dissonance problem of choosing convenience over sustainability, Ware2Go is fully covering the cost of carbon offsets for all merchants. Consumers will see no change in the price or convenience of their shipping, but they will have the assurance that their purchase is in line with their environmental values.

To learn more about how Ware2Go is helping merchants of all sizes build a more sustainable ecommerce industry, read more about our partnership with Pachama.

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