Five tips for more eco-friendly ecommerce

Nikita Tilsley September 30th 2021 - 4 minute read

We’re making progress against the climate crisis, slowly but surely. Increased coverage of climate-related issues in recent years – such as David Attenborough’s documentaries and the XR protests – has put the issue in the public eye, with governments and industries now starting to act.

But while we look to large institutions around the world to tackle the big issues and root causes, many of us are wondering what we can do to reduce our environmental impact.

If you’re an online seller and you want some easy-to-implement tips to make your business a little kinder on the environment, take a look below. We’ve compiled a list of five ways you can become a more eco-friendly ecommerce business.

1. Sell more eco-friendly products

This is perhaps the most impactful but also the most difficult. Your products will of course depend on your customer base and your brand. Suddenly switching to a more expensive eco-friendly catalogue could well alienate your customers and lead to losses, so we’re not advocating that.

What you can do, however, is to review your products and see if there are any incremental changes you can make that still fit within your business model. Do this by asking yourself some questions. What materials are your products made from? Are they built to last? Can they be repaired, upcycled or recycled? Are the suppliers eco-friendly?

At first, aim for an informal evaluation of your product catalogue and try to make minor improvements. You can then monitor the impact this has on your business and potentially take larger actions from there.

2. Eco-friendly packaging

The next step is to take a look at your packaging. This can be a bit of a minefield, as some ‘biodegradable’ plastics don’t actually biodegrade and some ‘compostable’ materials will only break down under industrial composting conditions.

We’ve covered this topic in more detail in our post on eco-friendly packaging, so check that out if you want an in-depth breakdown. In short, the best thing to do is to follow the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle – in that order.

First aim to reduce the amount of packaging you use. Less is more.

Second, make it reusable. Perhaps customers are incentivised to return packaging for you to reuse, or they can reuse the packaging at home. Joco cups provides a list of reuse ideas on the lids of their cannisters, with suggestions such as pen pots or a mobile phone speaker.

Recyling comes last. This should be the final stage in your packaging’s life cycle (after it’s lived a few fulfilling golden years as a pen pot).

3. Eco-friendly shipping

Another area where you can try to cut carbon emissions is with shipping. Of course any road, air or nautical miles are going to come with some environmental impact, so look into what the least impactful solutions are.

Generally speaking, shipping by sea is less carbon intensive than transferring goods by air. So if you’re shipping your products internationally, perhaps consider doing it by freight ship. It may take a little longer to reach your customers, so make sure you’re upfront about delivery times.

You could also shop around to see which courier services are the most eco-friendly. For instance DPD is currently marketing itself as ‘The UK’s most sustainable delivery company’. They’re building ‘the largest all-electric delivery fleet in the UK’, with over 700 electric vehicles on the road to date. Other courier services, such as Green Courier, are also making a name for themselves as eco-friendly delivery options. Do a bit of research to see which solution is best for your business.

4. Accurate product descriptions/images

On the subject of shipping, the fewer road miles the better. Minimising the number of returns you need to process is both a good thing in and of itself and a way to become more eco-friendly.

Make sure your products have detailed, accurate descriptions, with plenty of high-quality photographs to help customers visualise what they’re buying.

This is especially important when it comes to clothing, specifically with fit and sizing. With modelled photoshoots, try listing the size that the model is wearing along with their height and weight so that customers can get a better idea of what the product will actually look like on them.

5. Donate to a green cause or offset your emissions

Now, carbon offsetting has got a bad rap recently, with commentators accusing companies of greenwashing. But the real issue is with companies that falsely claim they have no impact on the environment, or that use offsetting to distract from other carbon-intensive practices.

If you’re contributing some of your profits to efforts such as planting more trees while also exploring other ways to lower your emissions, then you’re both sequestering existing carbon and reducing your impact. Win-win.

Or you may want to donate a small percentage of each sale to an environmental charity. This could be one of the big internationals, such as Greenpeace, a national group, such as the Woodland Trust, or maybe a smaller, local charity. Take a look at the Charity Choice directory for a great database of environmental charities in the UK.

If you’re worried this might eat into your margin too much, then maybe just offer customers the chance to donate extra money if they want to. Perhaps 5% of the sale, or by rounding up to the nearest pound.

Not all of these tips may be right for your brand or business strategy, but hopefully a few of them are. And while the world undergoes a slow, titanic turn away from the carbon-intensive practices of the past, the changes we make on a smaller scale will all add up.

Written by
Nikita Tilsley

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