5 Ways to Make Your Ecommerce Store More Sustainable

Shades of Green

We’ve all seen the videos about large companies destroying perfectly good returned merchandise or not allowing the donation of food from the end of the day at a bakery. To many of us, we feel a sense of dread knowing these practices are unsustainable. 

As an ecommerce owner, you know that there are environmental impacts from selling online: shipping, packaging, manufacturing, returns. But luckily there are ways to make your store more sustainable, and to make customers feel better about their purchases. 

In this article, you’ll learn about: 

  • The impact of ecommerce on the environment
  • Five ways to make your store more sustainable
  • Examples of stores aiming to reduce their environmental impact

The Environmental Impact of Ecommerce

Over 2 billion tons of waste end up in landfills annually! That’s not just from ecommerce, but items like packaging materials, clam shell packaging, and discarded items do contribute. 

Environmental impact doesn’t just come from physical waste, but also energy usage such as large data centers. Transportation of goods by plane, cargo ship, and trucks are also leading to emissions and increased fuel consumption. 

Below are some ways your store can reduce its environmental impact. 

Create a Sustainability Program

Companies like Patagonia and Levi’s are paving the way for sustainability. Rather than letting customers’ old or damaged clothing end up in the landfill, Patagonia created their Worn Wear program and Levi’s has their SecondHand section. You can trade in used items and get credit to buy more. 

Levis secondhand

These old items get repurposed and re-sold on the site. It’s a great idea and works well for a popular brand like Patagonia, with many diehard fans. 

Consider if your store could benefit from something similar. Even if not many customers utilize the program, just knowing that you have something in place to help reduce the chance that clothing ends up in landfills can make them feel better about buying in the first place. 

If you happen to sell other items like electronics, think about how you could create a trade-in or recycling program. Allow customers to send in their old items for store credit, and your team can refurbish or recycle the products safely. 

Another idea is to provide customers a guide on how to safely recycle those types of items and give them a credit then they send in proof of recycling.  

For products that regularly get worn out by usage, such as backpacks, shoes, and apparel, consider sending customers a “repair kit”. This could be something simple like a patch, thread, and sewing needle that allows them to repair their item at home and extend its use. 

Carbon Offsetting

Carbon offsetting is the act of paying to compensate for emissions that are released. Often this is done through planting trees. Many companies now offer programs where if you purchase $X they will plan X amount of trees to offset the carbon emissions generated in creating and transporting your item. 

There are many Shopify apps that allow customers to pay a small fee to make their purchase carbon-neutral. This can make a customer feel less guilt about their purchase.  

Using Sustainable Packaging

What are your products being shipped in? Are there materials that could be removed or switched to a more sustainable product? 

  • If you require shipping in boxes, consider using recycled material. 
  • Rather than use plastic bubble wrap, switch to corrugated paper bubble wrap. 
  • Use mailers that are compostable and plant-based. 

The impact of single-use plastics is huge, as they can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade. Switch to biodegradable plastics that can degrade due to light and heat. 

Unfortunately, many stores utilize unsustainable materials because they are often cheaper. But if you haven’t compared the costs, you might find that switching to more sustainable shipping materials is not as expensive as you might think. 

Companies like Ritual and United by Blue are emphasizing their move toward sustainable materials. Ritual uses 100% recycled material for their bottles. United by Blue has aimed to completely move away from plastics and even has developed some of their own proprietary materials. 

United by Blue

Switch to Sustainable Materials

Aside from just replacing packaging, consider if you can make your actual products more sustainable. This could mean moving toward different materials such as: 

  • Hemp
  • Recycled polyester
  • Organic cotton
  • Wool
  • Modal
  • Bamboo

This is just a small sample of the available materials out there. It’s a huge consideration to change how your products are manufactured, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

And don’t just consider the materials, also think about the manufacturing process. Levi’s has created a collection of denim that uses 96% less water than is normally used to manufacture their products. 

Think about the steps of your product creation process and how it could be done more environmentally friendly.  

Shop for a cause (donate)

Lastly, you can consider teaming up with a charity or program that focuses on sustainability or the environment. Let customers know part of their purchase goes directly to a certain cause. 

Of course, this decision should be made thoughtfully, rather than selecting just any organization to donate to. Consider how they align with your brand and mission. 

STATE mission

STATE sells backpacks for everyone in the family. They have chosen to give back to the community in a way that aligns with their brand and in a way that resonates with their audience. “We donate fully-packed backpacks, fund special projects with partner charities and schools, and shed light around social injustices impacting those we serve.”

Examples of Sustainable Companies 

Not sure where to start when it comes to sustainability? There are plenty of companies out there leading by example that you can get inspiration from. 

Big companies like Levi’s and Patagonia have been mentioned already in this article. 

Shades of Green

Shades of Green is an ecommerce store that only sells products that they have evaluated as eco-friendly. They rate these products on a scale from 1-5 (5 being the highest rating) and also rank the products based on sourcing, manufacturing, shipping, use & performance, and lifecycle. 

Pela phone cases

Plastic phone cases get thrown away each time you need a new phone. Rather than continue contributing to the waste, Pela has developed a phone case that is compostable. This is a unique spin on a very saturated market, and customers who care about the environment will be happy to pay for this type of case. 

Bite toothpaste

Lastly, there’s Bite which started out selling toothpaste bites, but has now developed a whole line of plastic-free products like deodorant, whitening gel, floss, and toothbrushes. 

How are you going to bring sustainability into your company? Whether it’s starting small by going paperless in the office or going big and revamping your manufacturing process, a move toward sustainability is the right thing to do for the planet and your customers. 

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