"How can your company not act sustainably?" will probably be a question frequently asked by customers in the future.
And for good reason: Our world is undergoing (climate) change. We are realizing more and more that resources are limited and that we have to do something about it. But not only the world is changing - the needs of our customers are, too. More and more people want to be part of the solution and no longer just the problem.
Of course, this is also accompanied by demands. Demands they make on you as a service provider: "When will your company become sustainable?", "When is e-commerce sustainable?".
What may sound like a mammoth task at first is actually not difficult to implement. Always keep in mind that no one expects your company to become CO2-neutral overnight. Rather, it helps to divide the task into small steps that can be implemented. Because it's also the small things that count. And you can implement a lot of them - without much effort, but with a lot of effect:
Sustainability in e-commerce: how it works
At the moment, one thing is clear: no company can avoid the topic of sustainability. Every online shop, every business, every service provider has a responsibility and will sooner or later have to deal with the question of how their company integrates sustainability into everyday life.
You don't believe? Then take a look at this blogpost. Here we have broken down for you why sustainability is important in business, why sustainable companies do better business and what exactly your customers expect from your brand.
So we have clarified the "why". This article will now focus on how you can implement sustainability in your company:
1. reusable packaging = positive impact
There's no question about it: online shopping is convenient. It's easy, it's fast, and you get the goods you want delivered right to your door. How nice... If only there wasn't the sustainability problem.
Because what is hardly surpassable for us in terms of convenience generates an enormous amount of effort - and CO2 emissions. In 2015 alone, approximately 1.5 million tonnes of packaging material were consumed by parcel shipments, and the trend is rising.
Nevertheless, and this has also been recognised by the executive chairman of the Working Group Packaging + Environment e.V. recognised that "packaging [...] will continue to be needed in the future; in most cases, its protective and freshness-keeping functions cannot be dispensed with."
But just because they will still be needed in the future doesn't mean they have to be harmful to the environment - does it?
The clear answer: no. According to the Federal Environment Agency, the amount of packaging could be reduced by 22 to 24% by switching to reusable packaging or by customers returning their purchases in their original packaging. Calculated savings potential: 180,000 to 370,000 tons (!). There are now countless companies that have set themselves the task of supporting sustainability in companies.
There would be for example Repack. Repack offers reusable packaging. In plain language: Your customers receive their goods in a Repack bag. After unpacking, they fold up the empty, prepaid bag and return it by mail to one of the Repack hubs. There it is inspected, cleaned and reintroduced into the cycle.
If you have goods that are not so soft as to be shipped in bags, you can also use Loopbox use Rhinopaq. The principle is the same as Repack, only with boxes. Another alternative: Rhinopaq.
Due to the systems behind them, reusable packaging has its price. However, those who are not willing to spend several euros just for packaging do not necessarily have to resort to classic disposable plastic. For example, the Hamburg-based startup #IAMPLASTICFREE offers compostable shipping bags made from biogenic waste materials.
As you can see, there are ways to make your packaging more sustainable and thus have a positive impact on nature. This is how sustainability in e-commerce works - without much effort.
2. sustainable production
This is probably the most obvious aspect - but also one that can be relatively difficult to implement. Especially if you sell, for example, disposable plastic cups online, a product that is per se not compatible with sustainability.
Nevertheless, there are some things that can be done to establish sustainability in the company. If you work in the textile industry, for example, you can make sure to use more sustainable materials. Synthetic fibres like polyester are made from petroleum or coal, while natural fibres are made from plant or animal raw materials. Popular sustainable fabrics include organic cotton and modal fibres. You can buy the latter from Lenzing, for example.
Even for companies in the food industry, there is an almost self-evident way: switch to organic products. Of course, it may sound complicated at first, but the value outweighs the cost in the end: happier and healthier customers, better image, better conscience... If you want your food business to become more sustainable, too, you are welcome to take a look at oekolandbau.de take a look. Here, the most common questions that organic beginners might have are answered.
Another point you can consider, regardless of the industry: your production site. If you sell your product in Europe, it makes sense to produce in Europe as well. This way, you emit less CO2 and it's easier for you to visit the production site to make sure that everything is in order.
However, this is a task that is not quite so easy to accomplish, as soulbottles has already proven: The start-up from Berlin places an extremely high value on sustainability - but had to realise that the advantages of a Production in China simply outweigh them.
Just remember: There are always competitors who do it better - more sustainably - than you. Just look around, let yourself be inspired. And look forward to implementing sustainability in your company.
3. green shipping
It's not just the product that needs improvement - the shipping of items also plays a major role when it comes to becoming more sustainable as an online store. After all, partial deliveries alone contribute to emitting twice as much CO2 as necessary and you have to pay for the shipping costs twice. However, this could be eliminated with a default option that selects "total delivery" from the outset, or an incentive for customers to have everything sent in bundles.
The delivery route from the parcel center to the customer also produces between Federal Environment Agency between 200 and 400g CO2 equivalents are emitted. What's more, many people who shop online return the items they have purchased, which increases emissions even further...
Although these numbers - once again - sound sobering at first, you can change something here as well. It's clear that your customers won't stop ordering. So the following questions come to mind: Why don't we start here? Why don't we optimize the famous last mile to have a sustainable impact here?
These are exactly the questions we asked ourselves at Liefergrün. But that's not all: we have also found the answers! Since 2020, we have been helping companies to implement zero-emissions deliveries. We use sustainable electric vans or cargo bikes and deliver from distribution centers close to the city center.
Zero-emissions deliveries not only make your online store more sustainable, but also give your customers a good feeling. A whole 86% of Germans would opt for environmentally friendly shipping if they could. The bad conscience that can come over one or the other when shopping online is mitigated by the green delivery.
And even though it's only the last mile, the impact is high: customizable time window deliveries and innovative live tracking can ensure that the person being delivered is at home - increasing delivery and satisfaction rates and sustainability in e-commerce.
By the way: In 2018, a whole 280 million parcel returns were counted in German online retail. Most of them - who would have thought it - were not sustainable. At Sendit.Green, we are also trying to combat this.
For example, we also use our electric vans and cargo bikes for returns and pick up the parcels directly at the front door - to save customers the trip to the next drop-off point, which they would probably take with their combustion engine car.
4. sustainable websites
Another point that partly answers the question "how can e-commerce become more sustainable?". And one that is often forgotten: your website. Because it is not only things that we can see and touch (example: plastic packaging) that pollute our environment - information technologies also make a not inconsiderable contribution.
For example, various Sources assume that information technologies will have a greater impact on the earth in the future than air traffic. Reason enough to act quickly! Green web hosts are unfortunately still in the minority. Nevertheless, there are pioneers in the field who are helping companies become more sustainable.
First ask yourself the following questions: Does your current web host use a green electricity provider? This could be Naturstrom, EWS or Greenpeace Energy, for example. Does he even mention the specific electricity provider? What is his further commitment to sustainability? If you answer the first two questions with "no", it's time for a rethink. Because: You have a choice!
So you could put something like GreenWebspace for example. The company has set itself the goal of making the web greener. How? By planting a tree for every account, generating 100% of their electricity from environmentally friendly hydropower, and using MeinAlpenstrom green electricity (even the employees at home!). Also Biohost, Avalon-Networks or Teuto use green electricity and can help you take another important step towards sustainable e-commerce. You don't need anything more than your own domain - which you usually already have.
In addition, lean websites can also reduce data transfer and thus CO2 emissions. Avoiding large files and elaborate graphics saves energy and is much more sustainable. You do the same when you design your website to be timeless. A regular re-design is not only nerve- and time-consuming - but does not contribute to sustainability in e-commerce because CO2 is emitted again and again.
Web designers like Toolbuddy or Black Design for example, offer sustainable design. Better for you - and for the environment.
5. CO2 compensation
We've probably all heard of this before: offsetting the emissions that a company produces. It would be too good if your company was so sustainable that it didn't produce any emissions at all. But: It is impossible to produce a product without producing CO2 at the same time. Therefore, there is no such thing as a CO2-neutral product. And that's where offsetting comes into play.
This means that there will always be residual emissions, even after countless CO2 reductions. But you don't have to just accept that either. After all, there are already countless companies that specialize in exactly this part and offer to support climate protection projects on your behalf. There is indeed the debate that you "buy your conscience clean" through CO2 compensation.... Nevertheless, investing in a sustainable project is better and more sustainable than doing nothing.
Good places to start are for example Planetly or Climatepartner. The latter will help you calculate your product or corporate carbon footprint. They also have a pool of various projects that you can support financially. You can choose between ocean protection, reforestation, solar energy or drinking water projects... Just to name a few!
So you choose one of the interesting and sustainable projects, pay a price per ton of CO2 and voilà: Your online store is more sustainable and you drive its decarbonization forward. So you choose one of the interesting and sustainable projects you want to support. The price is calculated based on your emitted CO2 emissions and the price per ton of CO2, which varies from project to project. The CO2 savings generated by the project will offset your emitted CO2 emissions. If you want to go one step further, you can also overcompensate and thus have a climate positive impact.
Sustainability in e-commerce? Yes, please!
And let's face it, it would be difficult to do business sustainably in e-commerce... Because the tips we've given you in this article are just the beginning. There are still countless ways to establish sustainability in e-commerce.
But especially if you are just starting out, it would be good to start with the small things. Things that are easy to implement, for example, are green delivery, more sustainable webhost and reusable packaging. In these ways, you can quickly make your online store more sustainable all at once. The good thing is that you don't have a lot of extra work.
For example, we at Delivery Green would handle the delivery for you. You don't have to do any research (unlike changing your product), let us inform you and just watch how sustainability works in e-commerce: Zero-emission shipping and pickup of returns, sustainable next day deliveries or time window deliveries... Satisfied customers included.
However, the situation is different with the more sustainable products. Here, you would have to invest a lot more time and energy to ultimately find out how exactly you would have to change the individual components of your product. Nevertheless, this is also worth it!
CO2 offsetting should be the last step in your sustainability strategy, after reduction and avoidance. Offsetting emissions without first even trying what can be changed directly in the product, the packaging, the shipping is not recommended, as it is quickly seen as greenwashing.
Do you feel like making your online store more sustainable? Are you itching to try out one of the tips above? We understand... If you are interested in green shipping, feel free to contact us! Or just click through our Website. We are happy about everyone who wants to work with us for a more sustainable world.
Until then, have fun with your sustainability strategy!