Life without online stores? Unimaginable for many of our consumers these days. No wonder: it's simply pleasant not to have to leave the house to pursue one's shopping desires... Trying on clothes in garish changing rooms is a thing of the past, as is lugging heavy bags or crowding at the next train station.
That doesn't sound like luxury, does it? And, you can already guess, that's exactly what it is. What may be pleasant for us is one of the worst things for our environment. Because although online shopping eliminates the trip to the city and plastic bags, we can expect completely different climate killers when we have products conveniently delivered to our homes.
For most consumers, however, doing without online shopping is out of the question. That's why it's up to companies - now more than ever - to change the way they think. Are you ready to lend a hand?
When are online stores sustainable?
The fact that online stores such as Zalando, AboutYou and the like can't exactly boast about sustainability should be beyond question. Before we take a closer look, however, we first have to agree on a definition. After all, sustainability is often a buzzword that even the fashion giants sometimes claim as their own (spoiler: although this is not really the case...).
In a nutshell, sustainability means being ecologically, socially and economically responsible. The three pillars of sustainability (ecological, social and economic) are of equal importance and together form a large whole - which should secure the future of our environment (and mankind). We should only consume as many resources as can grow back during the period of consumption and leave our descendants a world worth living in.
Of course, "being sustainable" is in many cases a matter of interpretation. Nevertheless, there are some indicators that can clearly classify a company as sustainable. For example, attention can be paid to establishing a green(er) supply chain. This is the basis for a change to an emission-free and socially just economy. Ideally (and in the sustainable case...), goods are also shipped without emissions.
Online stores are inherently unsustainable
As difficult as it was for us to write this headline, it is unfortunately true: because "traditional" online stores have it in them that their priority is not sustainability. Rather, the motto is "higher, faster, further." It's often still about how to deliver and make customers happy as quickly as possible. But, contrary to many opinions, this is also possible in a sustainable way.
However, what is usually not at all sustainable are free returns. These often result in five products being ordered in four different sizes - because "I can always send it back. Good for the environment? Not at all. On the one hand, delivery trucks have to drive twice; on the other hand, it is unfortunately still common practice for some returns to be destroyed. Crazy, isn't it?
If you want to make an online store sustainable, returns are a good approach. How about no longer offering them free of charge, for example? Even a small amount of co-payment ensures that consumers think twice before returning something or ordering in bulk. Some stores are already doing this!
Packaging material is also not environmentally friendly at all. The packaging industry has been growing for years. Good for the industry, bad for the planet. Because the share of one- and two-person households is increasing, which results in smaller packaging sizes and more cardboard per capita...In 2018 alone, the amount per capita was 98 kilograms of paper and cardboard waste - no one really wants to know what the figure looks like including plastic waste...
Although paper usually evokes relatively positive associations as a packaging material ("wood grows back anyway"), it is often only used once in the shipping of goods. However, the approach of using cardboard is a good one: because it is of course true that it is based on renewable raw materials. And something like this is always better than relying on packaging made from fossil raw materials (such as plastic).
Compostable packaging is also a very good alternative. As the name suggests, these are basic materials that can be composted. In practice, however, this is still off to a bumpy start: Throwing packaging made of bioplastics into the organic waste garbage can tends to be counterproductive - the decomposition time is longer than expected; often bioplastics have to be taken out of the compost again...
How do I recognize sustainable online stores?
Although sustainability presents us with some challenges as e-commerclers, we don't have to give up hope. Because there are already online stores that are sustainable - and even seals that we can use to recognize green companies. For consumers in particular, these seals are a great help. Finding your way through today's online store jungle is often like a mission impossible.
What labels are there?
If you want to buy sustainably, you can keep your eyes open for the Fair Trade seal, for example. This is probably the best known: It focuses on social sustainability and confirms that the product in question was produced and traded fairly.
The Cradle to Cradle certificate also certifies sustainability: This label is awarded to products that have been manufactured within the circular economy - thus recycling resources and fighting waste.
Another seal that we have probably all come across is the Blue Angel. Products and/or services that are classified as "environmentally friendly" by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment can look forward to the little angel.
Of course, there are many more seals, all of which focus on different areas. At this point, I would also like to point out that it is neither desirable nor realistic to be able to cover a large number of seals. It's best to start with one and set small, easily achievable goals for your company. Especially at the beginning of your "sustainability journey", a sense of achievement is very important.
Who's leading the way?
Although the topic of sustainability is often associated with "That's too much work for me" / "We can't do that anyway" / "It's still a long way to go", they do exist: The online stores that lead by example and show us: It's not quite as difficult as it may seem.
Companies like "Grüne Erde", "memolife" or "Kivanta", for example, only sell sustainable products online that are free of harmful substances and climate-friendly. Most products are also certified by seals, which gives consumers an additional good feeling.
But it's not "only" sustainable products that make an online store greener. Switching to CO2-neutral shipping can also be a huge step forward. For example, the Cologne-based startup mosch ships only with DHL GoGreen - which is a good start. Should you also consider revamping your shipping, however, avoiding CO2 is better than offsetting it. (We would have a solution there...)
There are an incredible number of ways to make an online store more sustainable. It starts with green power, sustainable products and packaging and ends, if it ends at all, with turning the supply chain upside down.
Although the number of ways to become more sustainable can almost overwhelm you, two things are certain:
- Your customers want more sustainable online stores. In some cases, they are even willing to spend more money on sustainability.
- It pays off. On the one hand for the customers, on the other hand for the environment.
And if those aren't two strong arguments, right?
If you don't have a clue where to start, or if you still have a few questions in your head, feel free to contact us. We can help you at least with the green shipping on the last mile - and that was already a very good start for one or the other company...