Going green: how to make your ecommerce business eco-friendly in 2019

From gloomy news on CO2 emissions, through to the rise of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the message is getting clearer by the day: if we’re going to save the planet, then now’s most definitely the time to change our ways!  

Those businesses that still rely heavily on plastic, or who leave their customers with a mini-mountain of packaging waste with each delivery, are in danger of looking seriously out of touch. Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their impact on the environment, and more than ever, they actively choose to buy from companies who act responsibly.

For keeping customers on board, for keeping waste (and costs) to a minimum, as well as for doing your bit for the planet, going green is a New Year’s resolution that all ecommerce businesses should seriously consider. Here are our tips for getting it right.

The business case for a greener approach

As a rule, if something’s good for the environment, it’s usually good news for your online retail business.

For a start, the majority (87% according to one study) of consumers have a more positive view of companies that support social or environmental issues. Unilever (the owner of a large number of grocery brands) found that in 2016, those of its brands that were focused on delivering a strong social or environmental benefit grew 40% faster than the remainder of the business. The evidence seems clear: going green can enhance your image — and boost your sales figures.

Beyond this, becoming more environmentally friendly can result in cost savings right across your business. As an example, smarter, more streamlined packaging is generally cheaper and easier to pack and send, reducing your spend on warehouse labour and shipping. Likewise, making your premises more energy efficient can help reduce your utilities bills, while potentially adding value to those premises in the long term.

Here’s a closer look at the areas where changing your current practices can make a big difference…

Your product range: embrace Design for the Environment (DfE) principles

From Etsy craft creators through to up and coming fashion brands, if you’re serious about making your products more eco-friendly, it helps to have the right framework for product design.

The DfE approach can help you ask the right questions at each stage of the design process. This includes the following:

  • Building blocks for product manufacture: what materials will be used? How will these be extracted and processed? Is there a possibility of using recycled materials in the process? As an example of this in action, Waitrose has just announced the end of glitter in its range — instead bringing in more sustainable ways to make its products sparkle.   
  • Packaging: careful choice of sustainable materials, keeping it to a minimum and reducing ‘dead air’ that needs to be filled can all go a long way to making your products — and your business as a whole as green as possible.  
  • End-of-useful-life considerations: how easily can the product itself be recycled? As a rule, the fewer types of material you use in production, the easier it will be for your customers to dispose of it responsibly.

Choice of packaging

Each year in the EU, more than 160kg of packaging waste is generated for each inhabitant — so for going green, this area should be a top priority.

A sustainable packaging strategy to be proud of has three key elements:

  • It takes up less space: this means less room is needed in the delivery van, your carbon footprint is kept to a minimum, and the same goes for postage costs. For instance, is there scope for swapping your big, bulky boxes for mailer envelopes?
  • It uses sustainable materials — and is easy to dispose of responsibly: for your paper and cardboard-based packaging, look out for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC) badges. Taken together, these indicate that the packaging product is responsibly sourced and 100% recyclable.
  • There is less of it: make the right choices and you eliminate (or at least, significantly reduce) the need for filler.

Making your premises more efficient

Better insulation, smart temperature controls, sensor-activated lighting: these are just some of the changes you can make for a greener HQ.

If you can find more efficient ways to use your existing space, you can avoid or delay expensive relocations or re-fits and keep your property footprint as small as possible.

Take the Natural History Museum, for instance. The packing area for NHM’s online store is confined to the museum’s basement, where the fulfilment team were struggling with mountains of boxes, filler and tape. With a little help from us, including the introduction of easy-to-assemble and stackable packaging, the whole packaging process became a lot more streamlined and efficient.   

Choosing your suppliers

No ecommerce company operates in isolation. All businesses that create their own products rely on partners for materials for finished goods, including packaging, shipping, and even stationery.

For any e-seller committed to becoming greener, an ‘eco-friendly audit’ is a useful first step. For each supplier you use, look carefully at their record and how they operate. For instance, have they taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint? Have they swapped problematic materials (e.g. single-use plastic) with greener alternatives?

Speaking for Lil Packaging, 2018 was a big year for us; one where we committed to remove all plastic from our product line up as part of our commitment to sustainable, responsible packaging. From cardboard boxes through to mailer bags, it means that if customers are looking for a practical, eco-friendly packaging option, they can shop with confidence — right across our range.        

Want to find your bespoke answer to greener packaging? Check out our latest eco friendly kraft mailbags, or our envelope mailer range made from 100% post-consumer recycled fibre board, or contact us today.

About

Head of eCommerce at Lil. I'm a family man who loves all things technology, design and digital. Lives and breathes design-led advertising, content marketing, SEO, PPC, lead generation and generally growing businesses online. Way too many gadgets and not enough time. Hoarder of cables and broken tech (you know, incase I get time to fix it one day). I also love riding and repairing old motorbikes in my "spare" time.

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