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E-commerce News and Insights | April 22, 2020

It’s Earth Day! A Guide to Greener E-commerce Operations

Shippo Snippets:

  • Happy Earth Day 2020! Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day by taking a look at ways e-commerce companies can reduce their carbon footprint and adapt to more sustainable business practices 
  • Sustainable e-commerce is growing, and using enhanced eco-friendly strategies throughout the business cycle is setting some online retailers apart from the rest 
  • Ways to “green-ify” your e-commerce business’s operations include optimizing packaging and shipping, reducing reliance on paper products, minimizing the environmental impact of your physical space 
  • While the effects of COVID-19 may rightfully be foremost on the minds of most right now, having concern for our planet’s overall health is an aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked

The Story:

Happy 50th Anniversary, Earth Day!

Fifty years ago today marks the first time a group of people formally gathered to recognize the importance of our planet. On April 22, 1970, after concerns that the environment wasn’t being factored into politics or the media, Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin created the first ever Earth Day event. More than 20 million people attended festivals nationwide, laying down the roots for what would eventually grow iconic national legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act

While the effects of COVID-19 may rightfully be foremost on the minds of most right now, having concern for our planet’s overall health is an aspect that shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, there are correlations between the two situations that continue to evolve. The bottom line is, the healthier our planet, the better equipped we are to handle pandemics and other outbreaks overall. And businesses can have a great impact on that within their everyday practices.

Today, the entire globe can get in on the golden anniversary by using the power of technology to connect, celebrate and support; a welcome change for many of us experiencing a sense of disconnection from coronavirus-inflicted social distance. The online Earth Day platform EARTHRISE encourages: “While coronavirus may physically distance us, it will not silence or divide us.On Earth Day 2020, we seize all the tools and actions that we have, big and small, to change our lives and change our world, not for one day, but forever.” 

When the Earth Day festivities have come and gone, the charge to change the planet will fall into our collective hands. And as many online retailers face a rush of orders from stay-at-home consumers, it’s a great time to check and see whether your e-commerce store is set up for sustainability success. In this piece, we’ll take a look at how to reduce your carbon footprint and infuse sustainable business practices into your everyday e-commerce operations. 

Ways to “Green-ify” Your E-Commerce Operations

Today, hundreds of e-commerce companies are setting an example by combining quality products with responsible consumption. While larger players like Amazon are beefing up sustainability efforts by reducing packaging waste and opting for greener shipping alternatives, the overall trend of sustainability is gaining serious steam across e-commerce companies of all sizes. 

Here, you’ll find a few strategies your e-commerce company can take to boost green operations and build sustainability into the engine of your business. 

Optimizing Your Packaging & Shipping Strategy

There are limited one-size-fits-all shipping solutions that would work for the entire e-commerce industry. So many goods are shipped in so many different ways, ranging in size from miniature items to massive machinery, and in means from direct-to-consumer to distributors and wholesalers. Although your online store has its own unique set of shipping requirements, here are a few things you can try to green up your packaging and shipping operations: 

Switch to Eco-Friendly Packaging & Shipping Materials

 If you’re willing to swap out traditional packing materials, these relatively inexpensive products can lighten your carbon footprint:

  • Biodegradable packing peanuts help prevent movement and insulate your product from shock without the same negative impact on the environment that regular packing peanuts have. They decompose in water and are made from natural, non-toxic starch 
  • Cornstarch packaging is another organic, biodegradable material with plastic-like properties derived from the corn plant. It’s a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based packaging and can be used where plastic would have been applied 
  • Corrugated bubble wrap is made of up-sided, corrugated cardboard and can be used as a cushioning material to protect your goods from shock just like bubble wrap does (except you won’t get that same rush of joy when you try to pop it)
  • Air cushion packaging pillows are made from 100% reused, recycled and even biodegradable materials. They’re available in a wide range of sizes and are commonly used to provide cushioning around packed items or to fill voids in boxes 
  • 100 percent recycled plastic is a durable and reliable packaging material that can support heavy loads and help protect your product from moisture, dust, dirt and more 

Sometimes, sturdy materials are the only feasible option to safely ship your order. Since cardboard boxes are typically the industry standard, you can opt for post-consumer or post-industrial recycled cardboard. Try using FSC-certified cardboard sourced from sustainably-operated forests and boxes with non-toxic inks and adhesives. 

Compostable, plant-based mailers made from corn starch are another solid, sustainable shipping option and they break down fully within six months.  And Scotch’s Flex & Seal Shipping Rolls allow shippers to simply cut, fold, seal and send packages without any boxes, tape or fillers—cutting down on shipping waste, space and even time. 

You can also look for Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified packaging—a globally-recognized measure of sustainable products that assesses environmental and social performance across five categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

And to every extent you can, try to minimize the use of plastic foam (commonly and mistakenly known as Styrofoam *mind blown*), which is considered one of the most harmful products for the  environment. 

Make Things More Compact 

Bundling your goods versus shipping in multiple boxes is another sustainable shipping strategy. You can offer deals on item bundles and promote them to your customers. 

Offer Discounts & Incentives For Ethical Consumer Behavior

Speaking of deals, you might try discounts for customers who waive their option to return a product or give store credits or rewards (à la Amazon) to customers who select slower shipping options. 

Streamline Your Returns Strategy 

Instead of forcing customers to return unwanted orders, try replacing items to cut back on superfluous shipments. Offer re-used, returned or refurbished goods whenever possible. 

Analyze Your Shipping Efficiency

Once the boxes are packed, how eco-friendly is your shipping transportation? SmartWay is an EPA-approved tool you can use to set, track, and analyze transportation efficiency, helping you take an active role in cutting the emissions associated with your e-commerce business. 

Get Creative 

There are plenty of ways to literally think outside the box. One epic example comes from Joco Cups, a company who ships their reusable glass cups in durable, cylinder-shaped cardboard containers. Their customers can repurpose the mailers in no shortage of adorable ways (pencil holder, piggybank and even cellphone stand). It’s an immersive brand experience that stems from practical and environmentally-friendly shipping practices. 

Be Paper-Free To Your Highest Degree

Email Receipts and Invoices 

Emailed receipts and invoices can go a long way in defending Mother Earth from wasteful paper packing slips, so you can start there. 

Use Smart Printing Software 

If you find yourself needing to print, you can try out a software program like GreenPrint or ecoPrint2 that identifies areas of waste in printing and recommends ways to eliminate it. 

Reduce the Environmental Impact Of Your Physical Space

Start By Auditing Your Energy Use

An energy audit is a great way to understand your e-commerce company’s environmental impact. You can take into account things like appliance and hardware power usage, HVAC and lighting efficiency, energy source (wind/ solar/ gas, etc.) output and water use. Try using an online energy audit template and you won’t have to reinvent the wheel. 

Then Work to Lessen Your Impact 

Once you’ve gotten a handle on your energy use, you can work to reduce it with a few simple steps. You might install low-flow plumbing fixtures, replace incandescent bulbs with LED or energy-efficient light bulbs, install motion-sensing lights and auto-sensored power strips, set the air conditioner a few degrees higher, and reduce your reliance on printing. 

You can take it a step further by registering for a LEED certification to showcase your compliance with environmental laws, even if your e-commerce business operates from home. LEED certifications can increase your building’s value and longevity and a growing number of LEED certified building owners see an increase in asset value of 10 percent or greater!

Take Out the Trash (Seriously!) and Recycle

These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a reputable product that didn’t offer  instructions on how to dispose of packaging and product waste. Your e-commerce business should be no different. By following  waste disposal and recycling guidelines, you can practice what you preach and work to lighten your carbon footprint. Waste management guidelines will vary depending on where you’re located, so check with your local or state EPA site for more specific instructions.

Understand Your Business Water Footprint

Your e-commerce business’s water footprint is the measurement of the total water you use to produce the goods and services you provide. Understanding it is an important way to start saving water. Once you know how much water your business is consuming and what’s available in the river basins where you operate, you can assess whether you’re using it sustainably. Try this nifty Water Footprint Assessment Tool to find out where you stand.

Maximize Your Office Supply Use

Choose Reusable Pens 

Reusable pens save money in the long run and minimize the waste that comes with single-use pens. If you make a point to fill the supply cupboards with only the refills, it keeps everyone accountable for their pen use (much better for mitigating germ spread!) and keeps consumption to a minimum. 

Dispense Paper Towels

Swap paper towels out with cloth towels for cleaning and hand drying. If they’re an absolute must, try using 100% recycled paper towels instead. 

Avoid Individually-Packaged Consumables 

Steer clear of packets of condiments like creamers, salt and pepper, jellies and jams and other consumables. These individually-wrapped products add unnecessary raw materials to the mix. Stick with jars and dispensers you can recycle and make them easy and sanitary for shared use. 

Have An Earth-Day Sale or Event

It might have to wait until next year, but a one-day Earth Day sale can act as a good testing ground to see how making eco-friendly business decisions resonates with your audience.

Here are a few ideas: 

  • Launch a new product that uses eco-friendly or sustainable materials
  • Donate a portion of your Earth Day profits to a green charity or cause 
  • Offer special discounts or limited time offers on eco-friendly products 
  • Give away a free, branded reusable mug or shopping bag with each order 

The sky’s the limit on what you can do to promote Earth Day to bring in more business and build a more eco-friendly brand. 

Use Technology to Automate Essential Processes

There are plenty of day-to-day operations that consume your energy in the form of time, resources and expenses. By facilitating greater automation in your e-commerce business, you can achieve more consistent reductions in resource use while accessing essential data that informs your future sustainability initiatives. 

Cloud-Based Technology

Cloud based technology offers your e-commerce business operational flexibility and the opportunity to cut down on costs. You’re probably already using the Cloud, since some of its most common applications include e-mail, data backup for most handheld devices, and even Netflix streaming video storage. 

If your independent business opts for cloud computing versus an in-house server, you can minimize your energy requirements (and bills) by eliminating power-hogging server cooling systems. On top of that, by consolidating all your key data in the cloud, you’ll have hyper visibility into information from multiple app-based sources and direct insight into how your daily operations are unfolding. This can help you make informed decisions about what to tweak to save energy and space. 

Digital Communication Tools

Platforms like Slack and Microsoft Teams allow you to collaborate with key stakeholders quickly and easily without wasting the emissions on an in-person meeting or the paper on a letter or memo. Most of these tools also streamline meeting management, so you can encourage remote collaboration to cut down on transportation emissions and fuel. 

Smart Shipping Software 

Shipping software has become an increasingly popular way for e-commerce companies to manage multiple orders, cut down on shipping costs and fine tune the overall customer journey. The key feature in most platforms is automated rate shopping for “best rate” identification without the need to manually search. Shipping API is a way to integrate your online store with multiple shipping carriers and streamline your customer’s shopping experience. 

Some platforms offer services that support a wide array of business needs. Processes like order returns, label creation, branded tracking and paperless trade to avoid printing invoices can all be included in smart shipping software. 

Check out Shippo helps for more seamless and efficient shipping and logistics solutions.

LeeMarie Kennedy is a multi-niche copywriter, editor and content marketing creator in Boston, Massachusetts. When she’s not meticulously wordsmithing or brainstorming a trending topic, she can be found teaching yoga, wandering the world, drinking fair trade coffee or eating too much cheese.

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