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Image: Olive is one of a growing number of companies that’s partnering with retailers to deliver packages that can be reused and returned | Olive/Facebook
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From rethinking sourcing to shipping, here are some of the key carbon- and waste-reducing strategies brands big and small are using to better balance sustainability and business goals.
The explosion of eCommerce was well underway before COVID-19 — but, according to
online spending soared to $795 billion in 2020, up 32.4 percent year-over-year.
While the growth of online shopping is a revenue driver for businesses and a win
when it comes to consumer convenience; as sales grow, so too does the
Transportation activities alone — the trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes
needed to move goods around the world — are responsible for approximately 17
percent of global greenhouse gas
As demand for package delivery grows, the World Economic Forum (WEF)
estimates there could be 36 percent more eCommerce delivery
driving around our cities by the end of the decade — resulting in more
greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), pollution and congestion.
forms just one part of the logistical backbone of eCommerce. For James Chin
Moody, who co-founded sustainable shipping service
Sendle, it’s about addressing the collective impact
of a booming industry.
“Every product sold online and shipped to a customer represents a vast web of
carbon-emitting activity,” he said. “It’s so important that right now, our
industry comes together to acknowledge our growing footprint, and that we work
together on long-term solutions. With the way things are going, failing to grow
sustainably carries too many risks for a business’ operations, its bottom line
and the planet.”
Consumer demand is one force putting pressure on the industry to be more
proactive about its impact. Environmental issues, and how a business takes
responsibility, is more top-of-mind for consumers than ever. According to
IBM, nearly 6 in 10 consumers say they’re willing to
change their shopping habits to
reduce their environmental impact. Customers are voting with their wallets – and
buying from brands that value sustainability.
From rethinking sourcing to shipping, here are some of the key carbon and
waste-reducing strategies brands big and small are using to better balance
sustainability and business goals.
Innovative approaches to packaging
Packaging makes up nearly a third of all household
according to the EPA; and much of the packaging produced and used today
cannot be recycled in the existing system. Instead, it’s added to landfills.
Governments around the world are calling for change, and there’s a growing
disdain among consumers for excessive packaging, as well — hurting loyalty for
those who don’t package responsibly.
As the packaging waste problem becomes more top-of-mind, brands are trialing
everything from recycled and compostable packaging to reusable packaging that
can be returned to its source.
is a relatively new entrant that’s joined forces with hundreds of retailers to
deliver packages that can be reused and returned. Olive also schedules weekly,
rather than daily, deliveries — allowing the company to aggregate orders and
ship them together from a centralized location, cutting down on transport
emissions. Noissue is a popular provider of custom
sustainable packaging, with a product range made from compostable, recycled, and
reusable materials. The company makes its packaging, which includes everything
from mailers and tissue paper to stickers and tape, accessible to small
businesses so brands of all sizes have an opportunity to meet consumer demands
for sustainable packaging.
Many brands and retailers are choosing carbon-offset or carbon-neutral shipping.
Sendle is a 100 percent carbon-neutral shipping provider for small businesses.
It reduces the impact of eCommerce delivery by making use of excess space in
existing delivery trucks to ensure every route is maximized. It then offsets the
emissions of every package it ships, by funding nature-based carbon-removal
(through its partner, South Pole).
Through offsetting, Sendle gives businesses a way to make an immediate reduction
to the footprint of their deliveries, and the company is actively looking at
ways to move the larger shipping industry towards a zero-emissions future. In
its native Australia, for instance, it partnered with Bonds — a
prominent local courier — to roll out the country’s first fleet of
solar-powered electric delivery
Working towards a sustainable eCommerce supply chain
As the WEF reports, the top eight global supply chains account for more than 50
percent of global
and represent perhaps the largest opportunity for businesses to reduce their
carbon footprint and inspire change through the industry. But it’s also
challenging to gain transparency into complex supply chains and to have the
oversight needed to make the right choices on who to partner with, and how
sustainable they truly are.
For many, using partners that adhere to globally recognized environmental
accreditations — such as Forestry Stewardship Council, Better Cotton
Initiative, Animal Welfare Approved and the like — offers a simple path to
gaining confidence in supplier operations.
For others, adopting renewable energy throughout the supply
is becoming a more accessible and affordable path towards sustainability,
offering an effective way to reduce power costs, risk and emissions beyond a
company’s own operations.
Product returns are a critical part of post-purchase logistics, and they can
have a significant impact on both the environment and the health of a business.
Nearly three-quarters of US
say returns are their least favorite part of the customer experience, so a
positive returns process is key to customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Each year, US consumers return about 3.5 billion products, 5 billion pounds of
which end up in landfills, as estimated by
Optoro — a company
that helps retailers process returns.
Brands are looking at a wide range of
tactics to minimize returns —
among those, expanding product descriptions, including high-quality product
videos; making the return policy accessible and prominent; and offering live
support and chat at checkout.
When products still need to get returned, some brands are using returned stock
in innovative ways. Nordstrom, for instance, stocks used and returned
in its “See you Tomorrow” range; while
donates its returned shoes to people in need worldwide.
Environmental awakening long overdue
Developing a more sustainable approach to
logistics is not an easy task; but given the pace of industry growth, the clear business imperatives, and the looming climate crisis, an industry awakening is more critical than ever. From eCommerce brands and retailers to shipping services, many companies are taking
much-needed steps, but greater awareness and action are needed now. It’s an
industry that’s booming — but let’s encourage leaders to approach it in a way
that sees both business and natural resources thriving far into the future.