Environmental and sustainable living has long been a trend in e-commerce. However, in recent years, e-commerce has experienced rapid growth, having an unprecedented environmental impact. Consequently, online retailers have been thinking of ways to address increasing demands for sustainability from their consumers while establishing corporate social responsibility and reiterating eco-friendly approaches in the supply chain. Below we explore some of the possible ways that eCommerce businesses could promote environmentally-friendly products and practice consumption, empowering people to make choices that align with a sustainable lifestyle.
The impact of growing e-commerce on the environment
According to Statista, over two billion people purchased goods or services through e-commerce in 2020 alone. Additionally, global e-commerce sales reached US$26.7 trillion in 2019, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report. With all of these eCommerce transactions come real-life footprints but a 2020 study by Globescan involving many global e-retailers found that seven out of 10 consumers want to become more sustainable. For e-Commerce retailers, this is a huge opportunity to provide customers with the ethical options they seek.
Companies can influence consumer behaviour for the benefit of the wider society by demonstrating purpose beyond profit, an unshakeable moral compass and a culture of environmental and social responsibility.
What can e-Commerce businesses do
Retailers have the power to lead customers’ attention toward certain products. Just think of the times TV commercials, flyers or magazine ads motivated you to purchase a certain product. This same approach can be used to nudge customers towards more eco-friendly choices. E-commerce sustainability hints help consumers make better decisions. However, they also collectively drive businesses to adopt sustainable practices through consumer pressure. Here are some concrete examples.
Environmentally friendly packaging
The terms “reduce, reuse, recycle” have become a new standard and e-commerce businesses must reflect those same values. This helps the environment and also increases brand loyalty among environmentally conscious customers.
eCommerce in itself is synonymous with shipping, meaning it includes cardboard boxes, transportation emissions, and a lot of plastic packaging material. All of that waste has to be disposed of somewhere, having a dire impact on the environment. In fact, statistics show that more than 2 billion tons of waste end up in landfills worldwide annually. This has e-commerce companies looking for sustainable solutions within the industry and some of them include eco-friendly packaging. Using recycled, sustainable boxes and packaging materials helps e-commerce businesses optimise their waste management as it reduced the packaging waste to a minimum.
Reducing the number of products imported from far-off locations also helps with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint. For instance, Camaloon manufactures its own products, so no additional shipping is required. This greatly reduces energy consumption and environmental footprint.
Eco-friendly and sustainable products
The most straightforward way to promote a sustainable lifestyle is to sell ecological, fair trade and sustainable products. Try selling reusable products, made from sustainable, eco-friendly sources or come in sustainable packaging. Consider offering eCommerce store products that help your customers reduce environmental impacts.
Products made of wood, paper, cardboard, or cork are some of the most obvious and popular choices. Stainless steel or sustainably farmed bamboo bottles can be reused thousands of times before any wear-down. You’re not only saving the environment but money, as well. Not to mention biodegradable bamboo straws or notebooks that are made of recycled cardboard.
Keep in mind that the way how products are presented on the website can gear the customers more towards some products than others. The positioning and the presentation of products in an online store have a large impact on what people buy. Very much like merchandising does in physical stores. E-retailers should use this same principle to lead users toward eco-friendly products.
Website modifications that promote a sustainable lifestyle
The eCommerce website provides information to grab a user’s attention. Why not communicate key environmental benefits in a way that’s inspiring, informative, and easily digestible? For instance, add environmental impact as an option in category filters in e-commerce stores. Add a sustainable search engine. Words like recycled, organic, natural resources, carbon footprint or renewable energy filters make it easier for customers to identify ecologically friendly alternatives.
As mentioned above, the positioning of a product on a website alone can make a significant difference. This approach could be carried through to the product search, where products tagged as “green” could be allocated a higher position in the search results. You can apply this prioritization of greener products in search results subtly in the background.
Alternatively, you can also simply highlight greener products or display icons representing environmental credentials next to them, to make them stand out in the product listings. You could also provide the customer with information about why a particular product is a greener choice.
Returns and exchanges produce transportation emissions, increase shipping expenses, and packaging waste. You can help reduce all this by providing clear information about your products online. Detailed descriptions, exact sizes, and high-quality photos help add clarity for customers, thus reducing the likelihood of returns and exchanges. Also, consider sample orders so that the customer can see in person the product before committing to a larger order.
Use email-only receipts and paperless invoicing to help you cut down on waste. If using wrapping paper, make it recyclable and use recyclable paper bags to reduce paper waste as well.
Lead by example to promote sustainable lifestyle
Being sustainable isn’t just about providing sustainable lifestyle products to your customers. It’s also about how you, as an eCommerce business, tackles environmental issues. A sustainable lifestyle should be implemented as part of your daily lives in the office and employees should be trained to follow them in daily life. Commit to a sustainability program.
For instance, switch to sustainable production, install solar water heating, use rechargeable batteries that use less energy, or swap a new car for bicycles to reduce carbon emissions. Better yet, switch to public transport. All these will help do your part for climate change, help reduce the environmental damage of global warming and leave a better world for future generations.
Other ways you can help are by opting for natural light instead of electricity or switching to solar panels and renewable energy. Use soap bars from natural resources, and reduce food waste by composting. Plant trees for team-building activities. Stay healthy by eating less meat and choosing a plant-based diet or vegan diet. Use reusable bags instead of cling film or plastic bags. Switch bottled water with tap water or opt for water bottles you can re-use. Do smart online shopping for products that are locally sourced, at local thrift stores or sustainable clothing outlets.
What’s in it for the eCommerce
A study by NYU Stern’s Center for Sustainable Business in 2019 found that sales of products marketed as being sustainable are growing 5.6 times faster than those that are not. This increase in sales points out a great profit opportunity for eCommerce businesses.
Clearly, customers do want more sustainable product offerings. However, they do not have the knowledge or the time to research which products are most eco-friendly. Suggesting sustainable alternatives to your buyers while on their buying journey, could be a great upselling approach. For example, sustainable products are often more expensive than their non-ecological counterparts. When customers view the non-ecological versions, the retailer could benefit by automatically recommending eco-friendly equivalents. Explaining to the customer why this is worth paying extra for and be a motivating factor in actually having people pay a little extra.
The retailer, therefore, can make it easy for the customers while at the same time maximizing its profits and environmental benefits.
Promote a sustainable lifestyle: the final word
Retailers have a unique opportunity to highlight environmental considerations in ways to live and encourage behavioural change. Most of these opportunities are simple to implement. They could even help increase revenue for the retailer. Making your eCommerce business more sustainable makes a big difference and increases your appeal to sustainability-minded consumers. The key is to make eco-friendly choices convenient for consumers, resulting in healthier and more sustainable lifestyles for the entire world.
Sustainability is an area where every effort counts. The products you sell and users buy will always have an environmental impact and, with eCommerce playing a huge role in this consumption, this aspect must be tackled. There are many opportunities to encourage more responsible shopping through less waste, less energy consumption, less packaging and plastic waste.
However, caring for the environment by reducing wasteful and harmful practices is a shared responsibility of a vast majority not just a single average person. Having your eCommerce business promote a sustainable lifestyle is a beneficial commitment to the future of your company and the health of the planet.