Making Your eCommerce Business More Sustainable [Easy Tips]

Written by Marina Vassilyovska 0 Comments
It's not easy to be green.

Or so we've been led to believe: recycling takes time and effort; buying bulk requires gas and a car; organic food costs more than non-organic fare, and so on.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of living sustainably, and I try to implement it as much as possible in my day-to-day life. I shop locally and stay away from foods with too long of a supply chain. I try to shop minimally. I eat mostly a plant-based diet and avoid single-use plastic like the plague (that it is).

dont you dare litter

It took me years to form all the little habits that now constitute what one may call a sustainable way of life, and they were built one by one, as most of them required an adjustment.

Fortunately, going green with your online store is a much easier task and won't take you years!

While it still may require some effort, the general shift toward a greener future made things much easier for companies trying to be more environmentally conscious.

I've done a little research and combined it with my own best practices, creating this simple guide you can follow if you want to male your eCommerce store more susaianlable. The majority of them will not require significant changes in lifestyle or business operations. A possible exception is with service/merchandise providers, but even then, you most likely will be able to make the shift once and be fine afterwards.

Of course, these tips only make sense if they fit into your overall business model and don't reduce your profitability -- everyone needs to make a living, but no one should wreck the planet in the process.

But wait, before we proceed, you may ask yourself:

What is the environmental impact of eCommerce?

According to a report produced by Greenpeace's Energy department last year, the Internet is responsible for emitting 3.7 percent or around one billion tonnes of greenhouse gases a year. According to estimations, this number is expected to double by 2025.

That might not seem too bad at first glance, but it becomes startlingly clear that the Web is a major player in the global greenhouse effect compared to other activities.

Digital commerce, in particular, leaves a large carbon footprint through a couple of things: power consumption, tied to both usage of the Internet and production of goods, packaging and supply chains.

While it has some advantages compared to traditional commerce, eCommerce is still guilty of humongous resource consumption.

So what does this all mean?

Among other things, it means that online businesses have a responsibility to decrease their own carbon footprint and help educate customers on how they can do the same by going green themselves - both as individual users and environmentally conscious shoppers.

So without further ado, let's dive into the tips!


How can I make my eCommerce website eco-friendly?

1) Choose sustainable delivery methods

Nothing says, "I want to be sustainable" more than opting for the least harmful method of shipping.

Shipping is one of the most environmentally unfriendly elements of an eCommerce company. According to IHL Group, two-thirds of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by transportation; 60% come from marine vessels, and the other 40% come from air travel.

This means that whatever you can do to reduce this number reflects on how kind your business is towards the environment, including choosing local suppliers and changing your delivery methods.

An easy way to do so is by switching to a more environmentally-friendly delivery company. Research a logistic company that uses green practices in terms of delivery. These include biking, electric vehicles, and automated route optimisations (i.e. optimally using the delivery vehicle). All of these delivery options aim to reduce fuel consumption and therefore, impact on the environment.

A great example of such a company is the London-based, eco-friendly Green courier.

Another good option is to incentivise your customers to collect their delivery from collection points rather than using the home delivery option. This also helps reduce fuel consumption, and with a larger volume of deliveries can make a significant difference.

2) Use eco-friendly/sustainable packaging

Packaging is unquestionably a major contributor to environmental pollution. Its carbon footprint is in fact calculated based on several factors, such as energy and resources required for production, supply chain, useful life (is it reusable), etc.

You cannot avoid packaging entirely, of course, yet there are ways to reduce the impact you're causing with it.

First of all, reduce plastic to an absolute minimum. Today everything has an alternative to a plastic packaging component, from cardboard boxes to compostable and biodegradable bags.

When you choose your green packaging, what you mainly need to consider is:
  • What is it made of: cornstarch, mushroom, seaweed, bamboo, etc. Some materials are, in fact, more sustainable than others in terms of renewability and local availability. You can read more on the materials used here.
  • If it's biodegradable, what conditions are required - some specific biodegradable "plastics" require industrial conditions which are not readily available to most consumers.
If you're interested, you can read this article where you can see some wonderfully designed sustainable packages - being mindful of the environment doesn't mean boring!

Of course, don't forget to think carefully if said packaging is a good fit for your specific merch, and definitely test it out with a few deliveries before deploying. Sometimes, you may discover that some packaging looks glorious, but for other reasons, it may not be a great fit for you.

3) Use online tools to reduce eCommerce carbon footprint

Your carbon footprint is the impact humans have on our environment through greenhouse gas emissions, land use and pollution.

If you want to see a better picture of your carbon footprint, you can use a calculator like this and find out precisely what impact has your business on the environment.

An excellent option to reduce your carbon footprint is by participating in initiatives like carbon offsetting.

Here at Kualo, we're big fans of Ecologi. Their project includes not only carbon offsetting but active tree planting and other initiatives you may support. If you head to our page, you can see the amazing results they've achieved with our help in just one year!

offset carbon with ecologi

You can also visit this article, where you can read more on carbon offsetting and discover other programs that will help your eCommerce project go green.

4) Encourage your customers to be more eco-friendly

Customers will likely be the first to have some green standards and ask you to attain them. Nevertheless, it's always a good move to try and educate or motivate your customers to make the better, greener choice when they shop. Here are some ideas you can swiftly implement.

Start by having a dedicated page on your website explaining the advantages of making mindful choices when shopping. The more detailed, the better, as even the most well-informed customers may be unaware of one aspect or another.

This will help you provide them with the necessary motivation, as people are much more likely to get behind a choice they have a clear understanding of.

Start encouraging bulk shopping. Bulk shopping has many advantages - from less packaging being used to more products being delivered with one delivery, there is no way to lose with this one.

Many people are still not used to it, so it's a great idea to motivate them with something beyond a simple discount. Try adding free samples, providing free shipping or anything else you may think of when it comes to incentives.

Create a loyalty program that is explicitly directed at products either produced sustainably or packaged sustainably and deploy it. Believe it or not, loyalty points are still a big hit, especially if you come up with some really great prizes (perhaps even relevant to the green cause).

Overall, you can use classic marketing tactics to stimulate customers to purchase sustainably produced and delivered goods.

5) Support environmental organisations and charities

One of the best ways to contribute to environmental and charity groups and organisations is by donating a portion of your annual profit.  While the percentage companies usually dedicate to charity is unlikely to affect in a big way their profit, the impact for the organisations and the company itself can be significant.

First of all, you need to consider that 2% of your profits might be negligible for you, yet the combined amount of many supporters such as yourself will be significant for the charity. Secondly, the endorsement alone sometimes can have an even bigger impact than the financial help, as spreading awareness of these problems is invaluable in terms of gaining support.

Plus, it's always good to let people know about the work you do outside of your company so they can see what kind of person you are behind closed doors. This approach will help generate interest from potential customers who want to buy from an eCommerce store whose moral values align with their own.

If you're unsure who you want to support, you can check this, this or this article and try to find the best one according to your own core values and inclination.

Final Thoughts

It's no secret that going green has become a lot more prevalent in society lately, since it benefits both the environment and people.

By implementing green and sustainable best practices, you'll have an advantage over your competitors and be able to provide your customers with the knowledge that their money is truly helping create a better Earth for us all.


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About the Author

Marina Vassilyovska is the Chief Storyteller at Kualo. She’s a big fan of digital storytelling, but she’s also very passionate about environmental protection and often volunteers in relevant initiatives. You can also spot her on WordCamps on local meetups, where she’s always up for a chat.