At first thought, digital commerce and sustainability together may seem like a paradox. Sustainability means meeting our needs without jeopardizing the capacity of future generations to meet their own, and this includes natural, economic, and social resources. On the other hand, ecommerce largely evokes images of untenable business models and shipping, which entails packaging, transportation emissions, and an overall negative impact on the environment.
But in the words of Jim Croce – “It doesn’t have to be this way;” making your ecommerce business more sustainable will not only reduce your environmental impact, but it will also help you connect with a new generation of consumers and drive growth.
Sustainable Ecommerce in Numbers
Consider the following: Statista found in 2020, that over two billion people purchased goods or services online worldwide, with sales surpassing 4.2 trillion USD worldwide. Furthermore, Statistica estimated retail ecommerce sales in the US alone at about 768 billion USD in 2021; by 2025, that figure is projected to exceed 1.3 trillion USD.
With digital commerce consistently on the rise, it’s time to listen to the consumers who wield the spending power and hold enormous influence on brand perceptions.
Millennials now represent $600 billion in spending power, while Gen Z chips in another $140 billion. Insider Intelligence found in the US in 2021, over 80% of Millenials felt that sustainability is “important” or “very important” when shopping online, with nearly 70% of Gen Z in agreement.
A 2019 survey comprised of 6,000 consumers from around the world reported much the same: 83% of participants felt it was crucial for companies to design environmentally conscious products. According to eMarketer, sustainability is a primary brand consideration for Millennial and Gen Z consumers, while Insider Intelligence listed “A Sustainable Strategy Will Be a Need-to-Have for Retailers” as their number one trend in their “3 Retail & Ecommerce Trends to Watch in 2022” report.
From an environmental perspective, the Sustainability Annual Trends report, produced by think tank agency SustainAbility, illustrates that the rapid growth of ecommerce over the past few years has severely impacted the environment. While over 2 billion tons of waste end up in landfills worldwide every year, the packaging involved in shipping often ends up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Sustainable Ecommerce in Digital Business
Adopting and implementing more sustainable business practices is oftentimes complex and expensive. But it also comes with several benefits. Making your digital business more sustainable allows you to:
- regulate the risk of product liability by ensuring the safety of your products to avoid the potential financial or reputational risk
- future-proof your operations by accounting for environmental disruptions across your business operations and those of suppliers to guarantee a flexible and agile supply chain
- maintain shareholder confidence by meeting investor demands for transparency and safer products
How to Tackle Your Journey to Sustainability
Embracing sustainability does not mean changing everything about your business, but it does require you to evolve your practices in ways that can make an impact. We’ve rounded up several action points, featuring our client, Pure Waste, that you can use to enact changes in your organization today. Pure Waste, a Finnish textile company, excels in ecommerce while taking strides to save the planet.
Related reading: Building Sustainability into Ecommerce: Glesys and Vaimo
Offer Eco-Friendly Products
Pure Waste produces 100% ecologically sustainable yarns, fabrics, garments, and only uses materials that would otherwise go to waste. The inspiration behind the brand stems from the Nordic dedication to recycling, and the clean, pure nature of Finland. The brand strives to industrialize textile upcycling globally as a common practice and to save water and reduce CO2 emissions as a result.
While your business may not produce 100% sustainable products, you may find an opportunity to partner with suppliers or manufacturers with sustainable practices already in place. This way, you can slowly implement sustainable goods and services while showcasing your efforts to your customers.
Recycle and Reduce Waste
Pure Waste encompasses this point perfectly, as the entire business model centers around reducing textile waste by creating recycled products. The brand aims to inspire consumers, businesses, and organizations through their example, and their overarching mission sees them working towards a world without textile waste. Pure Waste wants to do their part in decreasing the environmental footprint of the whole industrial sector by nudging it in a more sustainable direction.
Sustainable ecommerce should not end with a few sustainable products and an extra page on your website about your efforts – it’s largely about how you run your business. Take the time to assess your carbon and chemical footprints, and set goals to address areas where you can improve. Align your business operations with your sustainability benchmarks, and involve your sellers and product suppliers in the process.
Be Open About your Sustainability Efforts
When it comes to sustainability in ecommerce, it’s important to clearly communicate your sustainability goals and the steps you are taking to achieve them, so your customers can easily understand your values.
Doing so clearly impacts your business; according to EcoCart, about 91% of consumers value a digital retailer’s honesty when it comes to sustainable offers. However, 90.9% of consumers also presume that suppliers are trustworthy and that they will not present untrue or misleading advertising promises.
Therefore, be sure to only publicly share the sustainable aspects of your business that you are able to verify. When you do implement more sustainable practices, make sure you communicate this message at every step of the customer journey. For example, if you offer eco-friendly packaging or alternative shipping methods, be sure to talk about this with your customers.
Pure Waste takes pride in their mission to change the way the textile industry operates and turn waste into precious textiles. The website features a detailed Sustainability Report that outlines the brand’s impact, strategy, sustainable materials used, recommended garment care, and more.
Convert to Eco-Friendly Shipping and Packaging
There’s no way to avoid shipping in ecommerce, but there are simple ways to lessen the impact on the environment. Pure Waste uses RePack, a reusable and returnable delivery packaging.
The simple solution reduces trash and saves up to 80% of CO2 emissions compared to single-use packaging. Customers are encouraged to drop the empty, reusable packaging in a postbox after they receive their purchase. Many big brands such as lululemon also use reusable bags that customers can use to make returns, or simply re-use for their own purposes.
And speaking of returns…
Reduce the Need for Returns
According to a survey by the NRF, retail returns jumped to an average of 16.6% in 2021 versus 10.6% a year ago. Returns and exchanges can not only affect the bottom-line for retailers, but they also play a major role in transportation emissions, packaging waste, and overall shipping costs.
The easiest way to decrease the amount of returns is to include an absolute boatload of helpful details about products. Our partner, inriver, discusses how better product content equates to better informed customers and therefore fewer returns. For example, if your product is a floral dress:
- Be precise about colorways; shoppers will Google “black dress,” not “midnight sky dress.” Ensure that you include key terms on the page not only to attract customers, but to clearly define the product.
- Provide adequate photos of the product in different lights, and from different angles. It’s a great idea to include a video of a model walking around wearing the dress as well.
- Provide detailed sizing information, as usually, sizing varies greatly by brand. Why not include a size calculator while you’re at it?
- Speaking of models – always include details of the individual model, such as height and size. Make sure if you have different models showcasing different colors, to include information about all of them!
- Make it easy to communicate with your customer service via Live Chat or even a virtual shopping assistant. A quick answer to a question may mean one less return or exchange!
Allow Customers to Make a Positive Impact
Pure Water wanted to demonstrate to its shoppers the difference one person can make by implementing an Impact Calculator into their solution. Upon entering their purchases into the calculator, this eco-feature allows shoppers to see the H2O and CO2 footprint of Pure Water’s products and compare how much less water and carbon dioxide emission they produce in contrast to similar products made of virgin materials.
For example, if a customer purchases 3 t-shirts from Pure Water instead of from a less sustainable company, the customer reduces their H2O footprint by 4,275 liters of water, equal to the basic daily water requirements of 57 people. The page includes a social media link so customers can share their reduced environmental footprint and feel good about their purchase. This feature also allows B2B buyers to include a data-driven assessment of how they affect their stakeholders. Read our complete case study about the Pure Waste project here.
By illustrating the positive impact of a purchase, you allow your customers to participate in your sustainability efforts. You can easily achieve this by visuals or fun digital features, but it’s important to empower your customers to contribute to a good cause via their purchases with you. For example, Canadian clothing and accessories brand Tentree promises to plant 10 trees for every item purchased, and urges shoppers to “get planting.”
Consider New Sustainability Trends
The fashion retail world saw two sustainability trends gaining momentum rapidly: rental and resale. “Borrow-don’t-own” offerings such as Rent the Runway have fostered strong followings and will continue to grow this year. Consumers can diversify their wardrobes without resorting to fast fashion or supporting the production of more garments.
Resale marketplaces such as Poshmark, Facebook marketplace, eBay, and Depop are popular with consumers, while many well-known brands such as lululemon, Urban Outfitters, and Ikea deployed their own resale initiatives. H&M’s Close the Loop program encourages consumers to trade in their old clothing in exchange for a voucher towards their next purchase
Many companies now offer free repair services for their products. This is not only a sustainable practice, it also shows that you stand behind the quality of your products.
Danish luxury brand Aiayu is deeply committed to sustainable practices and natural materials, and heavily promotes its repair service that extends to all its products, including garments and home textiles. Apart from using sustainable practices and all-natural materials, Aiayu also endorses sustainable gift wrapping, sustainable shopping bags (purchases come in cloth bags), and using leftover materials (holiday purchases often arrive with small decorations made from leftover textile materials).
Related reading: Pre-Loved Commerce: How Used Online Marketplaces are Taking Over
“It doesn’t have to be this way” – It Can Be Even Better
Here at Vaimo, we are passionate about the beautiful world around us – in fact, our name is derived from the Sami word for “heart.” One of the founders of Vaimo is Sami, the indigenous people of Sweden who hold strong cultural ties to nature.
Because of our connection to nature, we’ve felt compelled as a company to proudly support the Word Wide Fund for Nature annually since 2014. And that’s the final tip – give back wherever you have the opportunity, and spread the word.
We believe that sustainable ecommerce is not only doable, but that implementing sustainable measures into your digital business allows for unprecedented growth opportunities. The merchants who are willing to take the lead into a new era of sustainable ecommerce business practices will most certainly benefit from it, as will future generations.
If you’re interested in taking a shot at sustainable ecommerce, you’ve come to the right place. At Vaimo, we pride ourselves on helping our clients become trailblazers in the landscape of digital transformation at large. As a full-service omnichannel partner, we take you from the first idea, all the way to a seamless global omnichannel solution, and help accelerate your growth after the fact.