How to Minimize Your eCommerce's Carbon Footprint
- eCommerce

How to Minimize Your eCommerce’s Carbon Footprint

The internet is transforming the way we think about shopping. In 2019, eCommerce is expected to account for more than 14% of all retail sales around the globe.

Today’s online shoppers expect immediate gratification — when they make a purchase, they want to receive it that same day or the next. To meet demand, there’s been a rise in package deliveries.

Few eCommerce businesses have examined how these trends impact their carbon footprint. Reducing environmental impact can seem overwhelming for any organization, much less one reliant on the constant transportation of goods. However, small changes in day-to-day operations can have a measurable effect.

Offer Green Alternatives

When it comes to online shopping, customers lack information about the environmental impact of their purchases. Researchers were curious if people would make different decisions if given carbon information at the point-of-sale. With alternatives, will consumers take the chance to reduce emissions?

One experiment involved Amazon, an online retailer known for two-day shipping. Would customers be willing to choose green shipping and wait longer for a package? The experts decided to find out.

They offered four different check-out experiences — a $1 gift, a donatable incentive, information about carbon emissions and a way to give toward carbon offset. The results showed green shipping is just as popular as the $1 credit. Some purchasers claimed they choose the green shipping option for heavier items to reduce CO2 emissions.

Green alternatives at the point-of-sale can be an excellent opportunity for eCommerce businesses to minimize their carbon footprint. You don’t necessarily have to offer an incentive — many consumers are willing to make green choices based on facts and information alone.

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Reduce Your Shipping Volume

Walmart is one retailer that studies its carbon output carefully. It found physical locations have a smaller footprint because people typically buy more items and make other stops along the way. Online, however, people purchase fewer items. Plus, each package requires additional materials and transportation.

The brand realized it could cut emissions if it shipped a larger number of items together per order. Two products shipped separately produces 35% more carbon output than two bundled items. There are two strategic ways to reduce this. The first is to avoid split shipments, which occurs when half an order is ready for delivery, but the rest isn’t available from the distribution center. The second is to encourage cluster purchases, where customers wait to buy multiple items at once.

eCommerce retailers can cut carbon emissions by educating consumers about their orders. In turn, they can also avoid split shipments and encourage people to do all their shopping at once, instead of split into multiple purchases throughout the week.

Invest in Efficient Equipment

eCommerce retailers operate primarily online. However, they still need brick-and-mortar locations for their servers. Brands can reduce their carbon footprint by zeroing in on energy-efficient technology and design.

Some brands have switched website hosting to 100% solar-powered servers. The price of implementation continues to drop. Plus there are several federal tax credits available for those who turn to renewable energy.

Look for products certified through the ENERGY STAR Program, run by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These products are designed to reduce expenses and save energy.

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Invest in low-flow aerators to reduce water waste and consumption. According to the EPA, 9% of commercial water use in the U.S. comes from office buildings, mainly due to restrooms. A low-flow aerator can reduce your building’s water consumption by up to 50%.

Establish Pickup Points

Retailers can reduce costs and carbon emissions with in-store pickup. They can also lessen shipping impact by fulfilling orders with an in-store inventory. Walmart shoppers, for example, can buy something online and pick it up within an hour. The retailer also offers discounts to those who choose to forgo shipping.

Online-only brands can compete by providing convenient pickup points. Amazon has developed a locker system, a series of convenient locations where customers can collect their purchases. The company can reduce last-mile delivery costs by shipping to established points rather than each individual customer.

A U.K.-based department store, John Lewis, partnered up with Waitrose Supermarkets for its click-and-collect option. Customers could pick up purchases when out shopping for groceries. In 2016, customers picked up 70% of their click-and-collect orders at a Waitrose location.

eCommerce brands who want to minimize their carbon footprint should look into alternative pickup options. Do you have a place where customers can grab orders? If not, is there a local market you can partner up with? Businesses that rely on daily foot traffic, like the convenience and grocery stores, are an excellent starting point.

Practice Sustainable Shipping

You don’t want customers to stop shopping. However, you can still reduce your carbon footprint — and your budget — with sustainable shipping practices. No matter how you ship packages, there are plenty of ways to lessen your impact.

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When packaging products, choose recycled materials. The iconic triangle logo will tell you how much of the product comes from sustainable resources. You can also select C2C (cradle to cradle) certified boxes made with adhesives and inks that aren’t harmful to the environment.

Styrofoam is a popular package filling material, but is petroleum-based and can be hazardous to the environment. eCommerce brands that wish to minimize their carbon footprint should look to sustainable materials as an alternative.

Brands can also reduce the size and volume of packaging, which uses fewer materials and takes up less space during transportation. Amazon users often post pictures online, showing large box sizes compared to small items inside. By shipping sustainably, you can reduce carbon output and avoid becoming an internet joke at the same time.

How Your eCommerce Can Reduce Emissions

Many brands have already taken steps to minimize their carbon footprint, especially when it comes to eCommerce sales. If you want to reduce emissions, follow the steps above.

Today’s consumers are knowledgeable about environmental concerns. If you give them the right information and freedom to choose, you can reduce your carbon emissions while still maximizing profits.


Lexie is a graphic designer and UX strategist. She enjoys taking her Goldendoodle on walks and checking out flea markets. Visit her design blog, Design Roast, and follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.

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