You may have heard about ‘sustainable e-commerce’, and wondered whether it’s a meaningless buzzword or has any substance to it. The short answer is that yes, more sustainable e-commerce is possible (and desirable). Every business, even an online store, generates some type of waste that can affect the environment. If you take measures to mitigate that waste, you’ll be well on the path to running a more sustainable business.
If you’re interested in figuring out how to make your online store more eco-friendly, we’ll provide some tips to help you get started. Let’s begin by talking about why this subject matters!
Why You Should Care About Sustainable E-Commerce
An online store can have a much larger impact on the environment than you might imagine. We’re not only talking about e-commerce giants, either. If you run even a modest e-commerce business, you probably generate more waste than you think (even if not directly).
Data centers and servers account for approximately 1% of all carbon emissions in the world. While the percentage is small, the raw numbers are big enough that this means the servers hosting your e-commerce site probably aren’t eco-friendly.
If you ship physical goods, you likely also generate a lot of waste due to packaging and shipping. That’s almost unavoidable when it comes to online sales, but it’s still an area where you can make improvements.
You might wonder why it’s worth worrying about this at all. While there are obviously big-picture reasons to care about sustainability, it’s important to keep in mind that there are shorter-term, practical benefits as well.
After all, a lot of people are starting to care about whether the businesses they frequent are harmful to the environment. In one large-scale survey, over 60% of consumers indicated that they’re willing to pay more for eco-friendly products.
That means positioning your online business as environmentally friendly can be a boon when it comes to growing your brand and increasing revenue. It’s good for the planet and your bottom line!
How to Make Your E-Commerce Business More Sustainable (3 Tips)
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways for an online business to become more eco-friendly. In this section, we’ll explore the three methods that can have the most significant impact for the majority of online stores.
1. Use Environmentally-Friendly Shipping Options
When it comes to reducing waste, there are several aspects of shipping that are ripe for optimization. The biggest of them is packaging, at least if you sell physical products.
A lot of packages from online stores are guilty of including non-biodegradable materials. Switching to more environmentally-friendly packaging is a great way to signal to customers that you care about reducing waste. Plus, biodegradable packaging is not necessarily more expensive than traditional options.
Moreover, there are some shipping companies that make an effort to be sustainable. Prioritizing shipping options like this, and letting customers know that you’re using an environmentally-friendly provider, can be a good way to boost sales.
2. Opt for Web Hosting That Offsets Your Carbon Footprint
As we mentioned earlier, website hosting is not a very eco-friendly practice. Data centers and servers need to run around the clock, using massive amounts of electricity. There’s no way to avoid that, but there are ways a web host can lower its carbon footprint.
For example, some web hosts prioritize ‘green’ measures that counteract their impact on the environment. Those measures can include using renewable energy sources, as well as offsetting their carbon footprint by investing in environmental projects.
Web hosts can also obtain green certifications demonstrating that they follow eco-friendly practices:
A quick Google search for green hosting should help you find a number of companies that put these kinds of measures into practice. You’re likely to use the same web host for years to come, so opting for a provider that cares about sustainability is a massive step toward improving your own.
In addition, just as with packaging and shipping, you’ll want to communicate to customers that you’re partnered with an environmentally-friendly web host. It might even be a good idea to create a web page dedicated to explaining the sustainable steps your business has taken. That way, potential customers can easily find those details, and even encounter your site via their eco-friendly searches!
3. Reduce Returns and Waste
Finding ways to reduce product returns is one of the holy grails of e-commerce. The fewer returns you get, the better your bottom line should be. Plus, the rate of returns is one of the most direct indicators of customer satisfaction.
In terms of sustainability, product returns are massive generators of waste. You and the customer have to spend more money and use extra packaging on shipping an item back and forth. You might also need to discard many returned products, if they’re not suitable for resale.
There are several ways to reduce product returns, which in turn will help your e-commerce business become more sustainable. The most important thing to remember is to be as upfront as possible when promoting products. Provide as many details (and images) as you can, so customers know exactly what they will get.
It’s also smart to implement a plan for handling product returns in a way that generates as little waste as possible. For example, you might choose to donate returns to organizations that can benefit from them, or use local recycling options to dispose of them. Some companies are even offering ‘returns’ on low-cost items where customers don’t have to ship the products back.
There aren’t many online stores that can genuinely claim to be sustainable. Businesses generate a lot of waste, whether they’re brick-and-mortar or web-based. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t take steps to make your own business more eco-friendly. Using green hosting is a great place to start, and is relevant no matter what type of products or services you offer.
What steps are you taking to make your e-commerce business more sustainable? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Image credit: geralt.