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Alina Virstiuk
Written by
Alina Virstiuk
Content Manager at Gepard
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ecological shopping sustainability sustainable eCommerce

Sustainable eCommerce: A New Buzzword Or An Important Environmental Challenge?

9 min read
April 15, 2022

With a lot of extra packaging, transportation emissions for the sake of express delivery, and the growing rate of product returns ending up in landfills, online retail seems to be the opposite of environmental sustainability goals.

eCommerce business, apart from providing millions of buyers around the world with the comfort of convenient online shopping, evokes a lot of environmental issues. According to the Nielsen review, 73% of consumers around the world said they would be ready to change their consumption routine to decrease their influence on the environment. With such statistics, sustainable eCommerce becomes not just a buzzword, but a desirable strategy for many businesses who want to ensure they are not outpaced by more farsighted competitors.

Let’s explore, what is sustainable shopping, how online retail can stay eco-friendly, what is a sustainable supply chain and what’s the connection between product data and environmental sustainability in business.

What Is Environmental Sustainability In Business?

The environmentally sustainable business operates with the goal of decreasing its impact on nature and considers more than just profits but also takes into account its influence on society, the planet, and human well-being. The eco-friendly business earns money by being environmentally and socially responsible, saving the planet’s resources, and creating healthy conditions where such a business can prosper.

 

What Is Sustainable eCommerce?

Sustainable eCommerce implies conducting online retail in a way that does not exhaust natural resources and aims to satisfy the demands of the current generation without compromising the future ones. It includes ecological manufacturing, eco-friendly shipping, and sustainable retail management as well as sustainable consumption on the side of a buyer.

Eco-Friendly eCommerce: Is It Possible?

Climate change, global warming, waste disposal, fast fashion, deforestation, water, and air pollution are some of the current environmental issues. Can eCommerce reduce its footprints on the environment and become more eco-friendly? With millennials, being the generation with the fastest-growing purchase power and the highest level of self-conscious consumption, the answer is: yes, it can, and it should. Adopting sustainable eCommerce does not require global changes for your business, however, it needs to develop certain practices that can make a difference on your way to environmental friendliness.

Some of the most effective ways of implementing eco-friendly eCommerce include embracing sustainable supply chain management, which means that every part of the product journey through the supply chain, from production to its delivery, considers the impact on human health, society, and the environment. Here is what you can do to swell the ranks of sustainable supply chain companies.

Eco-Friendly Shipping

Shipping is an unavoidable part of eCommerce, thus making it more environmentally friendly is of utmost importance for businesses that want to go green. Here are some of the tips to make your shipping more sustainable.

  • Transfer the deliveries in bulk, whenever possible. Offer your customers a UPS carbon-neutral dispatch option, which implies paying a small extra fee for shipping. That money will be paid to support the programs aimed to neutralize the carbon emissions of your delivery transport.
  • Investigate the sustainable delivery options, offered by companies with sustainable supply chains such as FedEx (like FedEx Smart Ship or FedEx Green Ship programs, Green tool option for choosing sustainable packaging materials) or DHL. The last one is constantly working on environmental issues by offering eco-friendly procurement, decreased fuel consumption, choosing renewable energy, buying sustainable woods from licensed suppliers, and using recycled materials at all the stages of their product journey.
  • Do not offer express delivery for all product types. Meanwhile, it is okay to provide express delivery for certain goods, it should not be something that goes by default. Express shipment is the drawback of online retail, and showing that you understand this issue, grows your reputation in the eyes of your customers. Extending the shipping period increases your chances of finding the most eco-friendly and efficient way of delivering purchases (like waiting for more orders and delivering in bulk, using the same transport).
  • Offer delivery instead of pick-ups in physical stores. The 2012 University of Washington study found out that grocery delivery can cut down up to 90% of carbon emissions compared to buyers going to pick up the goods by their own transport. However, it works only if you thought through your delivery ways by consolidating the goods and delivering them to many clients located on one route. Therefore, carefully considered logistics is a key to a more sustainable supply chain.

What Are The Components Of Sustainable eCommerce?

Eco-Friendly Packaging

Sustainable packaging should be the goal of every eCommerce company that wants to build a reputation as an environmentally friendly business. According to Statista, almost half of Amazon customers think the retailer uses an excessive amount of packaging.

The customers’ desire to be more environmentally friendly was one of the reasons Amazon UK refused to pack the orders in single-use plastic bags and switched to recyclable paper and cardboard envelopes deliveries. Here are some of the tips on more sustainable packaging.

  • Reduce or stop using non-biodegradable materials such as plastic or foams. Most eCommerce businesses use it because of its cheapness. Offering biodegradable packagings such as paper or cardboard will contribute to your sustainable supply chain and increase the popularity of your products among customers who prefer eco-friendly online stores.
  • Choose the appropriate packaging size. Canoe-sized boxes for the phone case are definitely too much. Not only do the large amounts of packaging occupy extra space that could be used for other deliveries, but it also is unjustified consumption of resources. What’s more, heavier packages are shipped at a higher cost. TOMS shoe brand is one of the sustainable supply chain companies whose packaging contains up to 80% of recycled materials, including soy ink for printing. The same goes with their manufacturing which widely uses recycled polyester, organic cotton, and hemp.
  • Make sure to market your eco-friendly packaging. All your work is down the drain if your customers do not know about options for choosing sustainable packaging or its future recycling. By sending the right message about your environmental initiatives you do not only help nature but also create a great selling point for your business.

Managing Product Returns

The incompetent management of deliveries and returns is the reason why eCommerce quite often makes the Earth choke on plastic. Here are a few ideas on how to minimize product returns or at least make them more ecological.

1. Work on your return policy

To ensure your business has a sustainable supply chain, you should work thoroughly on your returns policy. Allowing your customers to return an unsuitable purchase should be one of the fundamentals of your eCommerce business. However, it should be more of their right rather than encouragement from your side.

Your return policy should be reasonable without an appeal to buy as many things as possible with an opportunity to return them on any terms. From your returns policy, your customers should get an idea that you support responsible eco-friendly shopping. Clearly communicating your goals to educate customers about the consequences of unlimited shopping returns is also a key to reducing them.

2. Encourage customers who refuse to use the return option

Provide customers with an opportunity to waive their return choice. It could be something like an agreement to drop down the option of returning a purchased good. Offer those buyers a small discount for the actual or next purchase or simply reduce the price of non-refundable product options.

3. Provide customers with clear product info

One of the keys to decreasing the number of product returns is providing your customers with accurate, up-to-date product information. The timely updates of product descriptions, and rich and verified content guarantee customer satisfaction. Unlike brick and mortar shops, online retailers cannot offer their customers the ability to hold the purchase in their arms, smell it or get a feel of it.

On the other hand, it highlights the necessity of top-notch product descriptions that give customers an idea of already owning a good and minimizes the chances of returns that go against the idea of a sustainable eCommerce.

Here’s where we should talk about the power of data for sustainable eCommerce.

How To Manage Product Returns Ecologically?

The Role Of Product Data For Environmental Sustainability In Business

So how exactly does a product content clear the way for sustainable shopping?

  • Accurate product data equals an enhanced shopping experience which means fewer product returns. It leads to reduced packaging, less waste and decreased carbon footprint, no excessive shipping, and less transportation pollution.
  • Enriched product descriptions help your customers to get an idea of eco-friendly goods. Also, rich media, such as images, videos, and user guides together with reviews help buyers get a precise picture of the product, to ensure maximum data accuracy and buyer satisfaction. It also brings down the number of returns, which affects the overall eCommerce sustainability.
  • Access to product data helps you find out and fix many issues that prevent you from being sustainable. Having valuable data at hand can help you track order and shipping errors which means that you will be able to increase not only your eCommerce eco-friendliness but enhance your profitability as well.
  • The requirements of many marketplaces to adjust products towards international sustainability data standards encourage businesses to switch to production and sales of more ecological goods. With the increased attention on current environmental issues, it becomes essential for businesses not just to produce sustainable goods, but also to provide accurate information about their exact composition, energy labeling, GHG emissions, packaging, eco-design for sustainable products, and cross-border shipping.

Product Information Standards For Sustainable eCommerce

A part of environmental sustainability in business is complying with the multiple data standards that regulate the influence of eCommerce on the ecology. Here we reviewed some of the main industry standards and their meaning for businesses, society, and the environment.

EPREL

Uploading the product data into EPREL (European Product Database For Energy Labelling) became mandatory from March 2021. The newly enforced and updated ecodesign requirements and energy labeling are the crucial elements of current environmental sustainability goals. These requirements concern manufacturers that produce goods subject to the energy labeling regulations (lighting, home appliances and related products).

Enabling an automated data input into EPREL is one of the challenges, successfully solved by EPREL connector, launched by Gepard. Advanced import and data mapping algorithms allow the bulk data import into EPREL database and simplify the process of entering the market on the appropriate terms to facilitate sustainable energy consumption and efficiency.

Applia Product Information Standard

Applia PI Standard was introduced to enhance product eco-friendliness among home appliances manufacturers. The product information standard aims to enable a consistent approach to product data among brands and retailers of the industry.

PI Standard is a part of a brand new Sustainable Products Directive, published by the European Commission on March 30, 2022, that aims at “making all goods in EU more durable, reusable, repairable, recyclable and energy-efficient”, shortly said, more sustainable.

HS Codes

Harmonized System Codes, introduced by World Customs Organization, is used globally for better products recognition, applying the right tariffs, and simplifying cross-border eCommerce. The classification system applies to 98% of globally traded products and was updated in January 2022. The revised edition was made to face the global critical global issues and to properly categorize the products according to the rise of advanced technologies.

The newly updated classification system alters the environmental, healthcare, and safety problems, by introducing the new regulations for electronic and electrical products, medical care goods, radioactive substances, improvised explosive goods, and other products that could be a potential threat to the environment.

The transborder flow of so-called environmental goods, potentially hazardous to nature, is now better regulated and monitored thanks to the new amendments. The recent updates also simplify the process of eliminating tariffs for the environmental goods that bring down carbon dioxide emissions, clearing the way for more efficient use of resources.

EU Eco-Label

The eco-label, recognized across Europe and worldwide, is a sign of environmental excellence, that is granted to products and services that meet high sustainability standards throughout the whole supply chain. The eco-label criteria encourage companies to move toward more sustainable eCommerce by producing and selling goods that are durable, easily repaired, or recyclable.

Sustainable eCommerce FAQ

What Are Some Environmental Issues?

Among some of the most important environmental issues are climate change, global warming, air, land, and water pollution, increased carbon footprint, deforestation, and excessive waste disposal.

Are Buyers Ready To Change Their Consumption Habits?

What Is A Sustainable Supply Chain?

Sustainability in the supply chain has the purpose of making all the business processes, from production to distribution, more eco-friendly toward the environment and society, implying decreased carbon footprint and influence on the planet, guaranteeing good working conditions, and ensuring high social responsibility.

How Can Recycling Materials Lead To Environmental Sustainability?

Using ecycling materials for production and shipping results in decreased pollution by decreasing the need for new materials, saving energy that could be used for the production of new materials, preserving the natural resources, bringing down the landfills wastes, and reducing carbon footprint.

What Are The Examples Of Companies With Sustainable Supply Chains?

Among eCommerce companies with sustainable supply chains is Starbucks which announced and works on its aspiration to become a resource positive and athletic leading retailer Nike which seizes eco-friendliness at every stage of its supply chain. Some other sustainable supply chain examples are Toyota, Adobe Systems, and Marks & Spencer.

Product Data To Leverage Sustainability

Altering product data to make it compliant with numerous standards and regulations is one of the data challenges for eCommerce companies committed to environmental sustainability. Handling product data manually, especially for high-load businesses, causes numerous human errors, distracts companies from focusing on strategic and creative tasks, and slows down time to market.

Automation of product-related processes becomes a lifesaver for companies who want to stay sustainable and at the same time keep up with the competitors. Gepard PIM brings benefits to brands who seek compliance with their retailer-specific data across multiple sales channels and struggle with data validation. Adjusting to ever-changing data regulations helps businesses reduce time to market and outpace competitors.

As for the retailers, they can make the most of PIM through the effortless collection of standardized data from suppliers, which speeds up the launch of sustainable goods. Enriched data helps keep your customers informed about ecological products and be sure of choosing the right brand and seller to purchase from.

Do you want to embrace sustainability for your eCommerce business with the power of data automation? Book your free personalized demo now.

How To Comply With Data Sustainability Standards?

 

 

Alina Virstiuk
Written by Alina Virstiuk
Content Manager at Gepard
Passionate about travelling, books & photography. Enjoy working with new things and meeting people from all over the world.

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