How to Achieve Sustainable Operations for Your Ecommerce Business—and Why

Consumers are actively choosing to shop with retailers who share their ideas as they become more aware of their environmental impacts. That means it’s crucial to move with the times and commit to reducing your ecommerce business’s carbon footprint. Achieving sustainable operations for your ecommerce business isn’t easy, but it is important if you want to make real and lasting changes. In this article, we’ll talk about what sustainability in operations is, why move to sustainability, and how you can get started.  

What is sustainability in operations? 

Many companies are now designing and implementing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy to define exactly how they measure and then plan to reduce their environmental impacts. From an operations point of view, this relates to how you run your supply chain, warehousing, ordering, packaging, and fulfillment strategies.

But where to start?  If you haven’t already got one—your business needs a sustainability or CSR strategy. According to research from Linnworks, nine out of ten retailers are noticing a shift towards environmental concerns in their customers. There’s no better time to act. 

If you don’t take action— chances are you’re going to get left behind. Three out of four retailers now believe that if you don’t show a strong commitment to the environment, your business won’t survive in the long run, according to Linnworks’ research. 

Why move to sustainable operations? 

As consumers become more aware of their environmental impacts, they’re actively seeking out retailers who align with their values. If your sustainability strategy doesn’t match up to their expectations, consumers will start shopping elsewhere.  

PwC found that 50% of shoppers have started to consider the environment when selecting which retailers to use over the last year. This ties into Linnworks’ research that shows that 64% of retailers launched their sustainability strategy as a direct result of customer demand. 

An even bigger driver of sustainability initiatives is the combination of employee demand and fear of being left behind by competitors, which were the two main reasons 83% of retailers surveyed by Linnworks gave for launching their sustainability initiatives.

When it comes to transitioning to sustainable operations: 

  • 39% of businesses that have plans to pivot to more sustainable operations plan to do so by partnering with sustainability-focused partners, suppliers, and vendors
  • 33% plan to rework spaces for energy/water conservation and/or increase electric vehicles when it comes to their supply chain
  • 36% plan to prioritize sustainably sourced materials or ingredients and/or materials in packaging 

Beware of greenwashing 

A word of warning when it comes to creating a sustainability strategy — your initiatives must lead to real-life actions and improvements. 

If you haven’t heard of “greenwashing,” this term refers to companies that, from the outside, appear to have a robust sustainability strategy. While this might look good on paper, it doesn’t actually translate to any meaningful action. 

Sooner or later, companies that greenwash will be held to account by their customers and employees.  Having a clear link to your sustainability strategy and publishing yearly updates on your progress is one way to show your customers your commitment to environmental issues is genuine rather than performative. 

The benefits of taking a more environmentally friendly business stance aren’t just linked to customer demand. These strategies can also bring cost savings and of course, help the environment. So, where are some of the best places to start when it comes to assessing your operations in terms of sustainability?  

How to create more sustainable operations 

Sustainable order fulfillment 

There are plenty of ways your order fulfillment processes can be improved to optimize sustainability. The most effective option to start with is streamlining your shipping and fulfillment operations so they’re as efficient as possible. 

If you sell products across different sales channels, processing and packaging these orders may mean your staff has to log in and out of multiple platforms. This is a pretty inefficient way to do things and can end up with increasing costs when it comes to warehousing, staffing, and shipping.  

Instead, using a pick pack and ship workflow with one platform for managing your inventory, orders and fulfillment makes your warehouse more efficient and can cut down on shipping costs. 

Having a streamlined picking and packing list saves your staff time and allows you to consolidate orders and increase the efficiency of your shipping providers by making sure they’re always collecting the optimum number of orders at any one time.  When calculating your business carbon footprint, you need to account for the emissions generated by your business and upstream and downstream emissions. 

Downstream emissions include those from your shipping providers, so by consolidating orders, you’re helping your shipping providers reduce their carbon emissions by having to make fewer trips.  

Sustainable packaging 

The packaging you use to ship products to customers tells them a lot about your brand. Shipping a small item in a large box with an excessive amount of non-biodegradable packaging automatically tells your customers that you don’t care about the environment. 

Transitioning towards more sustainable options doesn’t need to be difficult, and we’ve outlined a few ideas below to get you started. 

Avoiding material like foam or plastic is a great start. Prioritize biodegradable materials that your customers can either compost, reuse, or recycle. Bioplastics are another option that might suit your products and also reduce your environmental impact. Choosing appropriately sized boxes for products, or using die-cut inserts to separate items can also make a big difference.     

It’s also the shipping packaging you use to send your products to the customer that you need to consider and how you present your products. If you use plastic jars for cosmetic items, replacing this with a glass jar and a metal lid will decrease your environmental impact and also remind your customers that you’re an eco-conscious company every time they use your product. 

Items of clothing don’t necessarily need to be packaged within individual plastic bags. Would thin cardboard packaging with your logo printed in eco-friendly inks be a better alternative?   

Partnering with the right shipping partners 

Choosing a sustainable shipping partner is an essential element of any strategy designed to reduce your impact on the environment. Many shipping partners now use electric vehicles, offset at least some of their carbon emissions, or offer a range of other eco-friendly options like fuel-reduction strategies. It can be difficult to balance the seemingly conflicting consumer demands of lower environmental impact and next-day or even same-day delivery. 

Nielsen found that while 73% of ecommerce customers claim they would “definitely or probably” make changes to their behavior to reduce their impact on the planet, this idealism doesn’t always translate into real-world action. Given the option between next-day delivery with a high environmental impact and shipping times of a week or more but with a lower environmental impact—many ecommerce customers are still going to choose that first option.  

Something that is gaining in popularity with customers offsetting their carbon footprint as their order is shipped with EcoCart. As an ecommerce business, you can give your customers a choice to make their order carbon neutral. Doing this shows your customers you’re not only aligned with their values but committed to taking positive climate action. 28% of customers will currently choose to make their order carbon neutral, and this number is only likely to increase. 

Sharing the collective impact of your customer’s individual action makes a strong statement in terms of boosting your brand value, increasing customer loyalty, and increasing conversions. If you’re interested in building a brand that customers love, then building sustainability into the center of your operations is essential. And, you’ll help save the planet we all call home at the same time. 

Are you ready to adapt to the new, effortless economy? Download The Great Commerce Acceleration research from Linnworks. 

Linnworks connects, manages, and automates commerce operations, powering businesses to sell wherever their customers are and capture every revenue opportunity. With Linnworks, integrate your commerce technologies into one central system and scale up quickly with automated workflows and insights. Find out more at www.linnworks.com.

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