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Can eCommerce be Eco-Friendly?

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The internet is a very powerful tool for small business. It has allowed customers to discover new products, both locally and further afield. It has enabled sustainable brands to reach more potential customers than ever before. It allows businesses to effectively communicate their eco-friendly practices to a much wider audience.

Small businesses have found themselves relying on their online store more than ever. Some brands have had to quickly switch from traditional brick-and-mortar to eCommerce.

Is eCommerce Eco-Friendly?

You might have concerns that eCommerce is not as sustainable as shopping in stores. We’ve all seen poor examples from larger retailers. Many are notorious for using too much packaging, or shipping larger orders in multiple boxes.

The truth is that online selling can be as sustainable, if not more sustainable, than offline. Customers who buy online from responsible brands often have the smallest carbon footprints.

Person using laptop to shop online

Sustainability in eCommerce

Your Products

The very first thing you need to sell something online is a product. If you’re reading this you likely already have one, or even several!

Is your product recycled? Recyclable? Is it natural, sustainable, or is the product itself compostable?

Your product will inform your choices in packaging, shipping, and even your website design.

Your Packaging

Balancing the requirements of your product, demands of consumers, and the needs of the planet is no easy feat!

You need packaging that will protect your product in storage and transit. You need it to look great for consumers. You also need your packaging to be sustainable, both in production and at end-of-life.

The most eco-friendly packaging is no packaging at all! Unfortunately, this is very often not possible - especially when selling online. You will need to take into account: The needs of your product, how it will be used, and its end-of-life solution.

Some eco-friendly packaging options are:

  • Glass
    A fantastic eco-friendly packaging option. Glass is easily, and endlessly, recyclable. Unfortunately it can be heavy or fragile in shipment, requiring extra protection and padding.
  • Recycled Cardboard Boxes
    Using recycled materials is awesome! Make sure that you consider how much space the box will take up in shipment. How much padding do you need to protect the product, or to prevent the box from being crushed?
  • Compostable Cello Bags
    Great for packaging many different types of products, from food to apparel! Compostable cello is lightweight and flexible. It also works great in combination with boxes.
  • Flexible Compostable Packaging
    There’s a reason that many brands have switched their packaging from boxes to flexible pouches. Flexible packaging is strong and lightweight. Pouches can be stacked together to take up much less space in transit and storage than boxes.

Be sure to also use appropriate product labels. If you choose compostable packaging, you don’t want to contaminate it by using non-compostable labels!

Your Website

Now you need somewhere to sell your product. Did you know that even your website can have an effect on the environment?

By designing your site to run faster you can reduce the amount of energy it consumes when loaded. This affects your website hosting, and your customers when they are browsing. You can even choose website hosting that runs on renewable energy.

Decorated mailbox with natural background

Shipping Your Products

Now that you’ve created a product and sold it on your website, you will need to package it and ship to your customers.

Wait a moment, didn’t we already discuss Packaging? Well, yes and no.

Ecommerce selling also requires additional packaging to avoid damage. If your product packaging can withstand the postal system, then you may not need it. However, most products will need shipment packaging to protect the product inside.

People have been known to  mail a potato without packaging as a prank! Despite that, we wouldn't recommend putting a stamp directly on your product and shipping it as is.

Packaging being Re-used

When shipping your product you need to consider two things:

  1. The weight of your product (including its packaging)
  2. How you will protect your product from damage in transit

If your product is heavy or fragile it will affect how you will ship it. Unfortunately, this is why we often see big online retailers “over package” their products.

There are many different options for eco-friendly mailers and shipping supplies. If your product is soft, or not easily damaged, you might want to choose a flexible mailer. Otherwise, a traditional shipping box may be the better option.

You can also use the opportunity to recycle the boxes that your product supplies arrive in. At Elevate Packaging we recycle our boxes in our shipments to you!

If your supply chain, packaging, and shipping are as sustainable as possible it will have a huge impact on the environment. Encouraging your customers to choose slower shipping options will help reduce emissions.

Packaging represents almost two thirds of all trash in the US. If you’re looking for a good place to “green” your eCommerce strategy, packaging is a great place to start. Compostable packaging ensures that your business is sustainable from start to finish. Begin with sustainably produced packaging, and end with compost that returns beneficial nutrients to our soil.