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Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue.
– Edelman 

Over the past few years the issue of climate change and the impact our daily lives have on the environment have become big news in the UK. Thanks to the likes of documentaries such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet, and the Government’s war on single-use plastic, shoppers are now more aware than ever of their carbon footprint.

This has resulted in more environmentally-conscious customers and a huge uplift in sales of eco-friendly products. Shoppers want to purchase from responsible retailers – half of the consumers who took part in a study carried out by GlobalWebIndex said they consider the environment when they make a purchase decision.

Not only are customers more attracted to retailers that share their values but they also avoid retailers with negative reputations.

Consumers are using their spending power to effect the change they want to see.

– Nielsen

On the flip side, customers are demanding a seamless and convenient shopping experience which is having a detrimental effect on our environment. So what steps can retailers take to make their eCommerce operation more eco-friendly while still protecting their profits and increasing customer satisfaction?

Energy Efficient Web Hosting & Design

 

Web hosting is energy intensive – data centres require a huge amount of electricity to process and store data. In fact, research carried out by Huawei predicts that data centres will consume a fifth of the world’s energy by 2025.

Luckily you can choose from a growing number of eco-friendly hosting providers, such as Google Cloud, that are committed to becoming 100% carbon neutral. For every unit of electricity Google use to power their operations they purchase the same amount of renewable wind or solar energy and pump it back into the grid. This means that any emissions generated by your data requests and storage will be zero.

The amount of energy required to load one of your web pages will depend on the complexity of its design and functionality. Many of the factors that influence this energy usage are the same as the factors that influence how quickly your pages load.

Ways to reduce the level of resource required to load your pages include:

In addition, simplifying web design with more white space can both improve navigation and make your website more eco-friendly since monitors use more energy to display darker colours.

Green Shipping

 

The subject of free delivery and returns has many retailers feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many feel as though these offerings are no longer a USP but an expensive necessity to remain competitive in a busy market. What’s more, the lack of commitment required to order online is encouraging high product returns and having a damaging effect on the environment. So what can retailers do to protect their profits and offset their carbon footprint when it comes to shipping?

 

Packaging

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs reported that 11.5 million tonnes of packaging waste were generated in the UK in 2017. With eCommerce sales continuing to grow year-on-year it’s important that retailers do their part to reduce waste.

It goes without saying that retailers should cut down on as much packaging as possible, however it’s essential that any fragile goods are sufficiently packaged to prevent damage. If they arrive damaged, returning and replacing the goods will have a bigger footprint than the packaging.

If you offer free gift wrapping around the holiday season, make sure that you add the option to select/deselect this at the checkout. Many shoppers like to see the gifts they’ve purchased themselves before passing them on to the recipient.

Always use recyclable and biodegradable packaging materials that can be recycled locally by your customers such as cardboard boxes and paper fillers. If you are shipping fragile goods, choose biodegradable Eco Flo chips over harmful styrofoam.

Use responsibly sourced or Forestry Stewardship Council certified packaging. Better still, if you can, use packaging that has already been recycled.

Always encourage your customers to reuse or recycle your packaging and include all packaging with any items that they return.

Retailers don’t need to sacrifice on design for eco-friendly packaging – branded packaging is important for awareness, image and shareability. Well-designed packaging is in fact likely to be smarter and often means less waste.

Invoices can be provided electronically and returns information can be printed on the inside of boxes so that a separate piece of paper doesn’t need to be provided inside the box.

Your customers will notice if you’re sending out half-empty boxes – make sure that you have multiple sizes of box available for the products you stock. Review your most popular order combinations and source boxes to fit.

By only using the size of box required, retailers will save on both courier costs, where costs are calculated with dimensions, and reduce the number of trucks required to transport their orders.

 

 Fulfilment

When picking goods, warehouse staff should be encouraged to use handheld scanners over paper printouts. Handheld scanners not only reduce waste but they increase efficiency by sending pickers to follow the most efficient route around the warehouse. As they’re online and linked up to your eCommerce platform, they’ll be able to add items to the picking list as they’re ordered in real-time – allowing your pickers to work more efficiently.

Choose shipping partners that offer delivery windows and collection points. These options prevent missed deliveries and wasted journeys from multiple delivery attempts. DPD Pick Up allows customers to collect and return items to over 2500 shops throughout the UK.

If you have a bricks-and-mortar store, you can also offer a click-and-collect service.

Don’t be scared to educate your customers on the impact of their choices. On your checkout, highlight that longer shipping times are better for the environment as it means that their orders can be transported with other orders heading to their region. Customers who don’t urgently need their order might only be selecting next day delivery because it’s free.

 

Returns

Product returns are a big issue for retailers and for the environment. Although some returns are inevitable due to the remote nature of eCommerce, there are lots of ways in which retailers can reduce returns. For some ideas on how you can reduce your product returns, take a look at our blog post – How To Reduce Your Customer Returns In 8 Steps.

When items are returned to you, make sure that you reuse as much of the packaging as possible and recycle anything that can’t be used. If items are returned because they are damaged or broken, get them fixed or refurbished so that they can be sold on rather than going to landfill.

An Eco-Friendly Working Environment

 

As your eCommerce business grows, so will the number of staff it takes to run your business. Over time small changes to the working environment you create will have a big impact on your carbon footprint.

Paper: Reduce paper usage as much as possible with the aim of eventually going paperless. Only buy recycled paper and notebooks, and encourage staff to only print documents when absolutely necessary.

Plastic: Encourage staff to avoid single-use plastic bottles by providing a water cooler, real glasses and reusable water bottles for warehouse staff.

Recycling: Provide your staff with additional bins for recyclable waste such as paper, cardboard, plastic, cans and glass. Arrange for a charity or private waste disposal company to collect and recycle old ink cartridges and computing equipment.

Energy Usage: Make sure that you are only using the energy you need – this will both help the environment and reduce your electricity bill.

  • When not in use, turn off monitors, computers and tv screens completely rather than leaving them on stand by.
  • Unplug phone and laptop chargers when not in use to prevent them from consuming wasted energy.
  • Make sure that lights are turned off in empty or sunny rooms and use LED light bulbs rather than fluorescent or incandescent bulbs. At Venditan we use motion sensor lighting so that empty rooms are never unnecessarily lit.
  • Set a timer on your thermostat so that heating/ air-conditioning is only switched on during office hours. In summer open windows rather than using air conditioning.
  • Use energy efficient equipment where possible – not all staff will need the most powerful equipment.

Office Plants: Not only are office plants said to reduce stress and increase productivity but they will also improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.

Travel: Encourage staff to cycle to work or take public transport to reduce the pollution caused by commuting to and from work. If you’re based in a remote location, encourage carpooling and offer work from home days if their role allows.

Increase Loyalty & Attract New Customers

 

In a competitive market, being eco-friendly can be seen as a big USP. The move towards becoming more sustainable doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact it’s likely to save you money and be highly beneficial for you brand image.

88% will be more loyal to a company that supports social or environmental issues.

– Forbes

The growth in environmental concern isn’t going anywhere. Becoming a green business won’t happen overnight but by adopting small changes and sharing them with your customers you will be helping to future proof your business.

If your eCommerce business has made any recent changes to become more sustainable, we would love to hear what they are and how your customers have reacted in the comments below.

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Stephanie Fenton
11th April 2019

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