Sustainable Ecommerce: 4 Tips for Eco-Friendly Operations

sustainable ecommerce 4 tips for eco friendly operations

The ecommerce space has been on a rocket ship to the moon over the past few years.

And that should come as no surprise. 

With Jeff Bezos becoming the richest man in the world (and then losing the title shortly after to Elon Musk), ecommerce has clearly and unapologetically proclaimed itself to be the future of shopping. 

But despite the fact that eCommerce has added an unrivaled level of convenience into our lives, it’s not all milk and honey. As the ecommerce industry continues to grow, climate change is coming along with it. 

Although most of us don’t think about it too much when we get a package from Amazon, it should make you wonder: what is the environmental impact of shipping millions of products around the world everyday in jets and trucks? Where does all that packaging for those millions of products go when they’re unboxed? And what are the effects of manufacturing all those products in the first place?

Unfortunately, the answer to all those can be summed up in two: not good. 

As the negative effects of ecommerce (and global trade in general) become more and more apparent, consumers have begun to demand more sustainable products. As an ecommerce business, it’s your job to meet those demands.

Luckily, there are ways that you can continue to grow your business, keep your customers happy, and keep the planet smiling too. Sustainability and business growth aren’t at odds. In fact, products that are marketed as environmentally friendly grew 5.6 times faster than ones that weren’t.

Here, we’re going to give you four tips on how you can make your ecommerce business more sustainable. Some of these changes will be small and easy to make, but some will take a longer time to implement. 

Let’s kick things off with one of the smaller steps:

1. Switch Over to a Carbon Neutral Web Host

As an ecommerce business, you likely depend on a website. And while it’s easy to imagine a website as an immaterial object that doesn’t have any impact on the environment, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The reality is that it takes energy to run websites, and using energy often means releasing greenhouses gases into the atmosphere. 

For example, the average website releases 4.61 grams of CO2 into the air every time someone views one of its pages. While that may not seem like a lot, that means it only takes a little under 200,000 page views to release an entire ton of CO2 into the environment. That’s the equivalent of about four hours of flying a jet. 

When you consider how much traffic successful ecommerce sites get, it’s easy to see how this can start to become a problem.

Luckily, there are web hosting services that are dedicated to keeping your website up and running without harming the environment in the process. Eco-friendly web hosts, like Dreamhost, Sustainable Hosting, and GreenGeeks, can all help you reduce your carbon footprint without much of an impact on your business. 

What’s great about eco-friendly hosting is that it’s pretty easy to implement. If you built the site yourself, then you should probably already know how to swap over your hosting. If someone else built it for you, then ask your web developer to help you make the switch.

Then, be sure to include your sustainability effort somewhere on your site or marketing materials. 

2. Add Carbon Offset Options At Checkout

Carbon offsets are a way to compensate for any environmental harm you may be causing by paying for an equal and opposite action to be taken. 

In more technical terms, carbon offsets are certificates that indicate that a specific carbon-emission-reducing action was performed. 

For example, if your business generates 10 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every month, you could pay for 10 tons worth of carbon offsets each month to offset the harm your business is causing. As a result, your business becomes effectively carbon neutral. 

Carbon offsets include all sorts of actions, like supporting methane gas capture projects at a landfill or planting trees in a forest.

Reimagining your supply chain or changing all your packaging is tough. But carbon offsets give you a way to reduce your climate impact with a minimal change.

How can you implement this? Simple. When your customers checkout, add an option for them to pay an extra fee for carbon offsets that are equal to the emissions from the products they’re purchasing and their delivery. 

If you have wide enough margins, you can even do this automatically at no cost to your customers. Then, you can use this as a talking point in your marketing and branding. 
In fact, you may even be able to raise your prices to account for the additional cost of carbon offsets. Some studies indicate that consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

3. Switch to Sustainable Shipping

Shipping is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to ecommerce pollution — at least until shipping companies switch to fleets of entirely electric vehicles.

For now, there isn’t always much that you can do to reduce the impact of shipping your products to your customers. However, there are some green options offered from delivering companies.
For example, UPS offers several green shipping options, like eco responsible packaging and reusable envelopes.

4. Reduce Your Packaging

Packaging is a necessary evil in the ecommerce world. Without it, your products wouldn’t make it to consumers. But with it, you’re contributing to making already gigantic landfills even more massive.

Switching up your packaging is hard, but it is one of the most impactful actions you can take as an ecommerce business. 

Often, businesses provide much more packaging than is actually required to ship a product. In other cases, they may use packing materials that are not eco-friendly when much greener alternatives exist.

If you want to make an effort to reduce the environmental impact of your packaging, start by asking how much packing you really need. Is it necessary to include styrofoam with all your products? Do you really need to place your products inside a thin plastic sleeve or will putting your product straight into the box do just fine?

Once you’ve identified the bare minimum packing materials you need, you can move on to figuring out whether there are any alternatives available. For example, if you know you need packing peanuts, opt to use compostable ones instead. Or, consider using crumpled up paper instead of bubble wrap to protect your products.

It can be helpful to include a small note that indicates that you’ve opted for sustainable packaging — sometimes it isn’t obvious. But make sure you don’t add to the pollution by doing so!

Key Takeaways: Sustainability Tips for Ecommerce

Ecommerce isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and neither is climate change. 

Ecommerce businesses need to learn how to adapt their practices to ensure that their environmental impact is as low as possible. As consumers become increasingly invested in sustainability, running an unsustainable business isn’t just harmful to the planet, it’s also harmful to your bottom line. 

Making your company more sustainable isn’t going to be something you can do overnight. It’s a long term process that you’ll need to keep revisiting as new research comes out about how to operate more sustainably.

However, there are some fairly small changes you can start making right now to help build a strong and eco-friendly foundation for your business. The planet — and your customers — will thank you for making them.