The Dark Side of E-Commerce

With the ability to shop from your couch and get packages at your door, many consumers have fallen in love with the idea of e-commerce. The accessibility and convenience of not having to go to a brick-and-mortar storefront is appealing to both customers and shop owners, who can avoid the overhead that comes with a physical store.  E-commerce has made it possible for shops in one part of the world to find customers in the other, and for small businesses to find their niche and prosper online.

However, there’s a dark side to e-commerce. All of those packages, shipping trucks, and factories have created a large environmental impact. With the rise of online shopping came the rise in shopping itself—often, it’s too easy for customers to buy, and to keep up with the demand, companies are mass producing products, leading to environmental harm and destruction. Even smaller businesses have an impact on our planet. 

A rise in e-commerce

Over the next decade, e-commerce is expected to double. A combination of giant marketplaces and small businesses alike will, unfortunately, contribute to e-commerce’s negative impact on our planet. Every step in the e-commerce supply chain creates some environmental harm on our planet, from production to shipping. This harm ranges from carbon emissions that pollute our air to excess waste that ends up in landfills for hundreds of years. 

Producing various products can have detrimental environmental impacts. Stories of rivers, air, and land being polluted by factories have been commonplace over the last several years. The carbon emissions from factories creating products every day contribute to global warming.

Shipping and packaging are also major contributors to the negative effects of e-commerce. The total amount of cardboard used for packaging every year equates to 1 billion trees. This doesn’t include other materials like plastic, bubble wrap, and tape, all of which create their own landfill waste and often aren’t, or can’t be, recycled. Plastic packaging shipped with Amazon alone in 2019 created 465 million pounds of waste. Transporting these packages has a sizable impact as well; last-mile delivery growth will increase carbon emissions by 30% by 2030. 

Running large websites also has an environmental impact. Loading webpages all over the world demands energy and internet connection, both of which create carbon emissions. Giant warehouses full of servers that support thousands of websites use up a significant amount of power as well, most of which is still run on fossil fuels.

E-commerce’s environmental impact wasn’t viewed as such a big problem before, but it is now, and consumers are taking notice. More and more, consumers are leaving behind brands who don’t care for the environment, or have a large impact on the planet. A majority of consumers prefer to buy from and support brands that share their values, especially Millennials and Gen Z. Keeping up with the world’s demand for convenient products while being eco-friendly is going to become a requirement for e-commerce brands big and small.

How your brand can be more eco-friendly

If you want to retain your customers, capture new audiences, and keep our planet alive for years to come, becoming more sustainable is a necessity. There doesn’t have to be a dark side to e-commerce; making genuine efforts and being transparent with your customers will make e-commerce a much more positive and environmentally friendly industry. 

Making changes, big and small, throughout the e-commerce chain can help diminish the effect that e-commerce has on our planet. Switching out your packaging to more sustainable alternatives or using slower and more eco-friendly shipping methods can help decrease the environmental impact of packaging and shipping. Creating long-lasting products from sustainable materials, using renewable energy, or optimizing your website to use less energy also helps!

Implementing all of these changes would be impossible to do in one day. Being an environmentally friendly brand looks different for everyone – there are a variety of ways you can make your business more sustainable, and any changes you can implement will go a long way. Not all steps of the e-commerce chain can be eliminated—you still have to create and ship a product!

For the processes you can’t eliminate, or immediately change to be more eco-friendly, carbon offsetting is a great tool your e-commerce store can leverage. EcoCart is a plugin that allows you to offset the carbon emissions created from shipping each order from your store. EcoCart’s algorithm calculates the carbon emissions generated from any given order. Once the carbon emissions are determined, a proportionate amount is then donated to verified carbon offsetting projects, all of which work to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen various communities around the world. Add EcoCart to your store today in just a few clicks!

E-commerce doesn’t have to be all bad. By working towards sustainable business practices and being open with your customers, e-commerce can be a transparent, environmentally friendly, and more convenient way of shopping.

If you want to learn more about how you can use sustainability to grow your e-commerce business, check out our free e-book! Using Sustainability to Unlock E-Commerce Growth can help e-commerce businesses of all sizes and kinds implement sustainability into their business model to grow their brand, retain customers, and keep up with the changing demands of today’s consumers.

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