Sustainable Ecommerce and the Benefits of Going Green

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Every April, businesses around the world pay their ‘maternal’ respects to Mother Earth by acknowledging Earth Day. However, the benefits derived from establishing an environmentally friendly approach to business raise the question, "Should businesses be acknowledging Earth Day year round?" Since it was founded in 1970, as part of the burgeoning environmental movement, Earth Day has come to symbolize the critical importance that the state of the environment plays in the lives of people everywhere. For businesses, especially the rapidly growing global ecommerce market, “going green” and practicing environmentally-friendly business operations, has the potential to achieve multiple goals: protect the environment, promote a positive corporate image, and boost their fiscal bottom line. There are many benefits of being an environmentally friendly business. One of the most commonly accepted concepts of merging good business practices with environmentally sensitive operations is the idea of sustainability. The notion of sustainable development is, quite simply, the belief that it’s possible to align commercial/business development interests with only minimally depleting natural resources and ecosystems.In other words, sustainable development proposes just what its name implies: growth and development that is sustainable over the long term.

Sustainable Development: Finding Common Cause Between Growth and “Going Green”

For businesses, both online and traditional, the notion of commercial success means tackling a seemingly endless number of challenges, ranging from hiring the right people and developing a successful business plan, to marketing and reaching new clients in a fiercely competitive business world. So it’s understandable if some business owners might not always consider their company’s environmental impact to be in their "Top10" list of operational concerns.But for today’s ecommerce businesses, the reality is that their company’s environmental track record has the potential to be either a boost or a burden as they strive to achieve prosperity. Improving your reputation is just one of the benefits of being an environmentally friendly business.

Going Green Goes Global

It’s also worth noting that it’s not just domestic ecommerce that is experiencing rapid growth. As a result, international ecommerce has the potential to also make a considerable impact on the global environment. For example, between 2010 and 2016, Chinese ecommerce spending grew from constituting 3 percent to 15 percent of total private consumption. All those ecommerce transactions, both at home and abroad, have the potential for dramatic environmental impact; in response to that fact, the notion of “sustainable ecommerce” has also grown in popularity in recent years, as retailers, distributors and others scramble to minimize the potential negative environmental impact of all those online transactions. Following the environmental mantra of “reduce, reuse, recycle”, a burgeoning number of online businesses are turning to environmentally friendly business practices to both “do the right thing” (environmentally) and boost their company’s bottom line. They're realizing the many benefits of being an environmentally friendly business.

Methods of Greening Online Operations

The fact is there are numerous, and often simple, ways that ecommerce businesses can work towards achieving their green goals and realize the benefits of being an environmentally friendly business. These greening methods include:

  • Updating the lighting in their company’s office or retail space— Using compact fluorescent bulbs, which consume a quarter of the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs, will save both energy and money.
  • Using sustainable suppliers and materials— For example, packaging that is made from recycled materials and obtained through sustainable harvesting methods can have enormous impact on foresting and can bolster the green credentials and positive public image of your ecommerce company. Read our piece, "How Amazon Aims to Reduce Wasteful Packaging" to learn more.
  • Choosing organic ingredients whenever possible— Consumers have become very conscious of both the health and environmental benefits offered by organic products; choosing to go organic, when possible, has the potential to attract a large number of "green" customers, thereby greening both the planet and the company’s bottom line!
  • Using environmentally friendly sourcing— The environmental impact of any ecommerce product extends far beyond the actual product itself, and online companies that choose to support and utilize fair trade practices and programs (that promote sustainable ecommerce) can greatly enhance their green credentials with customers, while minimizing their business’ environmental impact.
  • Request an official energy audit (available in almost every state)— Assess your company’s opportunities for improving energy efficiency and calculate your ‘carbon footprint’; also, consider using green alternatives for office supplies within your company’s daily operations.
  • RECYCLE— The best way to not leave a significant environmental impact is to simply reuse/recycle whenever possible; something as simple as using glass instead of plastic bottles within your company may, over time, both save money and minimize your contribution to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—an 80,000-ton plastic giant pile of garbage floating between Hawaii and California in the Pacific Ocean.
  • Consider using ecommerce apps designed to help green your online business— Shopify offers apps such as Carbon Checkout or One Tree Planted, with the goal of helping ecommerce companies improve their environmental track record.

To be clear, for ecommerce companies, the option of going green is rapidly becoming less of a choice and more of a necessity if they want to prosper.A recent Nielsen study found that 52 percent of global respondents said ecommerce packaging choices partly influenced their purchasing decision; that means that over half of all ecommerce customers care enough about environmentally sensitive packaging to allow it to be a factor in selecting their shopping experience.So once again, the choice of using recycled materials emerges as simply making good business sense.

Simple Packaging Changes to Green Your Ecommerce Business

Transforming eCommerce businesses into environmentally friendly companies need not require major alterations to a company’s operations; in fact, with a few simple packaging tweaks, you can begin to realize the benefits of being an environmentally friendly business.Consider these simple green packaging options:

  • Choosing to use boxes that utilize inks and adhesives that don’t harm the environment
  • Use packaging that is certified as Cradle to Cradle (C2C), thereby eliminating the concept of waste in packaging
  • Use packaging that’s been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (an international non-profit organization that promotes responsible forest management)
  • Try to minimize the use of Styrofoam, which is considered harmful to the environment; ecommerce companies may wish to consider using biodegradable fillers in their stead

On the 364 calendar days that are not Earth Day, it’s understandable that in the fiercely competitive, complex world of online business, environmental issues may not always be top of mind for ecommerce companies.But practicing sustainable ecommerce, and thereby improving both their company’s environmental credentials—and public image—has been proven to be a sound business decision.The bottom line is that both literally and figuratively, there are many benefits of going green for businesses.

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