Blog posts

Blog posts

5 Ways to make your eCommerce business more sustainable

Adam Bastock
December 6, 2023
3 min read

More and more, consumers are demanding that the brands they trust and buy from are acting in an environmentally conscious and considered way. 

Being environmentally conscious can be overwhelming. Sometimes companies are accused of Greenwashing when trying to do the right thing because their change is misunderstood or miscommunicated.  

So, what are some key areas where you can start reducing your footprint? 

To get you started, here are the 5 top tips for you to start reducing your carbon footprint.  

1. Reduce Returns

Offering free returns is a great way to boost Average Order Value and encourage customers. However, it can also lead to increased carbon footprint as a result. 

Imagine you’re a retailer selling clothes. You have a new customer unsure on your sizing, and thanks to your free returns they are confident to order more than usual. 

They place an order for twice as much stuff as they usually do, and return the items that don’t fit thanks to a generous returns policy. 

There are two key issues with returns in this scenario:

  • Delivery Footprint - Returns have at least three times the delivery miles of a “normal” order. Once to the customer, once back to the seller, and then once more out to another customer. Each one of these generates emissions, and therefore reducing returns also reduces emissions via your delivery miles.
  • Weight - Because in this example the customer has over-ordered items expecting to return some of them, the order also weighs much more than if they ordered just the selected items, and more emissions are generated from transport as a result. 

The best thing to do is communicate the environmental impact of returns to your customers. There’s plenty of valid reasons why generous returns make good business sense, however encouraging customers to be more thoughtful with their purchase, can help tackle the problem. Ideally, try to incorporate these carbon emissions metrics into the check out if you have them, such as CO2 per delivery mile. 

Of course, choosing an environmentally sustainable delivery company can help a lot too, such as using one that operates electric vehicles or even cargo bikes for the last-mile.

2. Reduce Packaging

Plastic packaging is seen as a negative brand experience by consumers, and in an effort to show they are trying to be sustainable, retailers have turned to using alternatives. 

However, simply replacing your existing packaging with plastic-free alternatives may actually increase your footprint. Due to water and energy used in its production, paper can create more emissions than plastic in its production. 

Instead, it is better to focus on reducing the amount of packaging you are using. This is a far more sure way that you’re not just shifting the problem elsewhere, and making a  more permanent impact. 

You should make other changes too such as:

  • Returns Slips - Don’t include returns slips as default. Allow customers to print at home, on demand instead
  • Delivery notes - Are delivery slips entirely necessary for every order? Again, look to reduce or remove delivery notes from your packages entirely. Rethink your packages and only include the bare minimum needed to get the items to your customer. 

3. Reduce (and Monitor) Wastage

No matter how efficient your company is, eCommerce companies produce a lot of waste products. From end-of-the-roll bubblewrap to samples and broken products, you’ll naturally accrue wastage. 

It’s vital you reduce this as much as possible, but this can be difficult to do. Instead, work with a local waste management provider who can give you monthly reporting on the waste you’re producing. 

This can highlight areas for improvement such as improving recycling rates, and reducing the total weight of waste generated each month. Accountability is key here, so ensure you work with a company who can give you regular waste reports.

4. Change Suppliers

As a small business, you’re in a much stronger position to adapt to new products becoming available. 

A key area of any businesses emissions are those that it does not control. These are known as scope 3 emissions which sit outside of its direct control. This is everything from the products you’re selling, to the packaging you use, to furniture and equipment in your office. 

Packaging is often the easiest to tackle here. Reducing the amount of packaging you use and assessing whether there is a better alternative (such as paper) can be the first step.

However, it’s vital you also assess all of your existing suppliers for sustainability  policies, and swap away from those that don’t have them. Check for “Sustainability” or “Environmental” Policies in the footer of their site, or ideally explicit declarations of Net Zero targets. 

The reason this is so powerful is because it creates a multiplier effect. 

As your suppliers reduce their emissions, your emissions reduce too. As you reduce your emissions, the people you’re supplying and working with also reduce their emissions, and are thus more willing to work with you. 

If you’re using an accountancy package, you can easily generate a list by exporting a list of your suppliers. Start looking at the website of anyone you’re placing an order with, and ideally start with those who you spend most of your money with first.

5. Write a Sustainable Policy

Finally, now you’ve done all the above - write down what you’ve done and share it with your customers!

Companies are often accused of Greenwashing because what they are doing is misleading or unclear. 

By demonstrating exactly the actions you’re taking (and have taken) it builds trust with your customers. Customers often realise that not all of the technology exists right now, so be clear in what you can’t change right now too.  

Being honest about where you’re struggling means customers are able to make a clear decision if they want to buy from you too, and ultimately will result in a much stronger relationship.

Writing a sustainability policy doesn’t have to be complex or legally sound, it just needs to share:

  • What you’re doing 
  • What’re struggling to do 
  • What you can’t do 

To see more tips on how to get started with your carbon footprint, see Small99.

2 min read

Premium wines delivered reliably and less environmental impact

2 min read

Scaling orders volumes whilst saving time and money on fulfilment