Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, consumer shopping behavior has changed drastically. As consumers increasingly embrace social causes, they seek to buy products and associate themselves with brands that align with their values. Consumers are now willing to alter their shopping habits to reduce environmental impact. As more and more people choose to be sustainable, will it become a must-have for eCommerce businesses to incorporate?
For a long time, environmental and sustainability awareness has been a trend in e-commerce. In a bid to successfully address increasing demands for sustainability from their consumers, online retailers have been bringing in changes to approach a more eco-friendly and socially responsible functioning.
Let’s take a look at what it means to be sustainable for eCommerce businesses.
What is sustainability?
Brundtland Commission, a UN organization, in its final report “Our Common Future” defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainability is a holistic approach that takes into account ecological, social, and economic growth, considering all three factors together to create lasting prosperity. Sustainability is not just focused on environmental development. Rather the definition also placed equal importance on social equity and economic development.
When applied to business operations, sustainability is affiliated with companies that create and deliver value to its customer, suppliers, and investors by adopting resource utilization models. All the while fostering a healthy ecological and social relationship with Earth and its people.
Growth of sustainability in businesses
According to the Sustainability Annual Trends report, e-commerce businesses have experienced meteoric growth in recent years, and by doing so, have caused an unprecedented environmental impact. With growing awareness about the long-term ecological impact of unsustainable operations, consumers have started demanding sustainable business practices from eCommerce brands.
Retail and consumer products companies around the world have been increasing their focus on sustainability over the past few years. For any business, being eco-friendly plays an important role in winning over consumers, especially the younger generation.
Millennials are hugely influenced by a company’s environmental focus with over 70% claiming it influences their purchase decision.
With over $1.4 trillion worth of expenditure in 2020, millennials make up for the majority of the consumer base for eCommerce brands. Thanks to rising purchasing power and increasing self-consciousness in terms of future spending and social impact, millennials are also an attractive target group when it comes to adopting sustainable practices. A survey of 6000 shoppers in Europe, North America, and Asia revealed that 80% of participants prefer companies that design environmentally conscious products
Sustainability in online shopping: What consumers pay attention to while shopping online and what businesses need to pay attention to
1. Eco-friendly packaging options
Gone are the days when consumers were content with receiving their deliveries in plastic packaging. The new environment-conscious consumer prefers brands that use renewable materials and result in minimum packaging waste. This is the new standard that brands need to adopt if they wish to appeal to their consumers.
Almost all online shoppers pay close attention to packaging and are cautious about waste. Therefore, in addition to using recyclable and sustainable materials for packaging and opting for environmentally friendly shipping options, e-commerce businesses should prioritize optimizing their waste management by eliminating packaging waste.
2. Sustainable shipping options
While fast and cheap shipping is an integral part of an eCommerce businesses functioning, it leaves a huge ecological impact in its wake. The rising emphasis on climate change and sustainability has encouraged businesses to adopt innovative shipping solutions.
Sustainable shipping helps reduce the environmental impact of transportation, reduces costs, and increases customer satisfaction. Doing so shows customers that the brand values this cause and thus additionally strengthens the brand perception.
3. Management of deliveries and returns
A large number of online orders are either returned or not accepted at delivery. This leads to use of more resources, thus making optimal management of deliveries and returns a priority for eCommerce brands.
Often, orders are returned back to the store if the customer is not at home a lot or does not have a neighbor to accept the deliveries. In such cases, to avoid repeated delivery attempts, you could reroute your deliveries to a packing station.
Additionally, brands should also raise their consumer’s awareness about the ecological impact of returns so that they can approach individual returns and act responsibly. To minimize the chances of returns, online stores should provide clear information about their products.
How leading brands are adopting sustainability
Let’s take a look at 15 eco-friendly brands that are positively embracing sustainable practices in their business’s functioning.
1. The Body Shop
The Body Shop has gained massive success by creating products using formulas that address four main environmental areas: Biodegradability, Water footprint, renewable ingredients, and environmentally friendly processes. Their updated formulas and packaging is inspired by the growing demand for more eco-friendly products among customers.
The brand dons a full range of 13 products that are certified vegan and are made with a minimum of 95 percent natural ingredients. The brand also provides 100 percent recyclable packaging and is made from recycled plastic.
Rothys’ signature shoes and totes follow sustainability to its core. The brand uses yarn derived from recycled plastic water bottles to knit its iconic women’s flats. Meanwhile, their bags are created from a blend of marine plastic and a signature thread that is spun from single-use water bottles.
3. Girlfriend Collective
Girlfriend collective is a socially-conscious apparel brand that follows sustainability from product to packaging. Their products are created using recyclable materials. Take, for example, their compressive leggings, each pair of which is made with 25 recycled used water bottles. The recycled plastic is crafted into a new garment and shipped using 100% recycled and recyclable packaging.
4. Collina Strada
Collina Strada defines itself less as a fashion brand and more as a ‘brand that embraces social issues and creates awareness. Following sustainability in everything they do, this New York-based company has set a list of eco-commitments, which includes using 75% deadstock fabrics, using biodegradable packaging, and manufacturing within the US.
Kloris, a health and beauty brand that gained popularity for its CBD products, embraces good science, ethical practices in business, and eco-friendly operations for preserving the environment. Disappointed at the lack of ethical, reliable, and science-backed products in the CBD market, the brand started creating products with organic ingredients and sustainably extracted CBD.
Skincare and beauty brand TROPIC embodies freshly-made, cruelty-free, and natural ingredients as key elements of its products. The company has been certified Carbon Neutral and its products are freshly created in the UK, combined with some of the most innovative and effective natural ingredients.
YALA, UK’s first B Corp jewelry brand creates long-lasting ethical jewelry made of materials that are eco-friendly. Awarded “Jewelry Brand of the Year” for sustainability, the brand exclusively makes eco-friendly collections to reduce environmental impact.
Sheyn, a Vienna-based jewelry studio specializing in a simple and elegant design, swears by eco-friendly shipping. The brand ships its products using an eco-dispatch box that is made of 80% recycled material. This not only provides a unique design to the packaging but also delivers an unforgettable and environmentally friendly unboxing experience to the customer. Thanks to its sustainable packaging design that emphasizes reusability, the brand garners the loyalty of its customers.
Finisterre is a sustainable surfwear Shopify powered brand, and UK’s first B Corp certified outdoor clothing company. Finisterre has been making waves for being a socially-conscious clothing brand. However, the brand’s ecological commitment is not just limited to its products. Rather they have been actively involved with social impact campaigns as well.
In recent years, menstrual products have gained notoriety for the amount of plastic pollution they create on disposal. Menstrual products can contribute up to 90% plastic per product and have been a major contributor to ecological degradation. To tackle this, a London-based brand took it upon themselves to find a sustainable solution.
DAME, a B Corp brand aims to build environmentally-friendly menstrual products and rebrand them from something made with synthetic ingredients that creates plastic waste to products that are sustainable and eco-friendly. They create products like the organic cotton tampons or reusable period pads that allow menstrual items to be reused, reducing waste generated from their use.
11. Green Toys
Green Toys is every environmentally conscious mom’s dream: they are safely made for babies and are created with 100% recycled materials. The toys are built from recycled milk jugs, come in recycled packaging, and are printed in soy ink. They also reduce their carbon footprint by diverting the materials from landfills. By manufacturing completely in the US, the brand reduces any greenhouse emissions and extra transportation.
12. Native Shoes
Every year, nearly 300 million pairs of shoes fill landfills with harmful synthetic materials which are non-recyclable.
Native Shoes, a Vancouver-based shoe brand aims to change this narrative. The brand uses unusual manufacturing techniques and vegan materials to reduce its carbon footprint. Their best product is the limited edition Plant Shoe made of 100% biodegradable materials and can be composted after use. Moreover, Native Shoes reduces waste by collecting old pairs of shows and reusing them for playground flooring or insulation.
13. Seventh Generation
Seventh Generation, a cleaning products company, has revolutionized the cleaning industry with its eco-friendly cleaning products that are free of harmful chemicals and toxins. In terms of pricing, Seventh Generation prices their products competitively, unlike other eco-friendly brands which often sell costly. This makes its products an affordable yet healthy choice that is not only environmentally friendly but also harmless for your family and pets.
Pela’s mission is to create a waste-free future by leveraging technology that can build products without everyday waste. The idea was inspired by the fact that 60,000+ phone cases are discarded each year resulting in plastic waste. As a result, they created the first phone case that is 100% biodegradable.
They have also expanded to other products like air pod cases, smartwatch bands, and sunglasses, all of which are made of biodegradable and compostable materials and free of toxic elements like lead, cadmium, and BPA.
15. Thrive Market
Thrive Market, an online grocery membership site has transformed its entire supply chain into a sustainable business operation. The store emphasizes ethical and sustainable goods, compostable and recyclable packaging, carbon-neutral shipping, and minimum waste warehouses. When users signup, they get to select their most important values or causes, such as animal welfare, carbon impact, sustainable sourcing, fair trade, and regenerative agriculture.
17. Tropick Apparel
What do sustainable brands have in common?
All sustainable brands have some common characteristics which help them succeed in their endeavor:
1. A strong sense of purpose
Companies that achieve sustainable growth are driven by an authentic sense of purpose. Everyone in the company, from the highest ranked to the lowest, knows exactly what values the company embodies and why it does what it does. This results in clarity of vision making it easier to create a unique selling proposition that defines why the product or service is different and better than their competitors.
Having an authentic purpose inspires the following attributes in a company:
- Enhanced emotional engagement within the company and with the customers.
- Consistent focus and great work ethic
- Continuous innovation as everyone in the company does their best work.
2. A strong brand identity
A company’s brand identity builds an emotional link between a company and its customers. This link evolves as a developing relationship that keeps consumers loyal to the company for products or services that satisfy their needs.
Establishing a strong brand identity maintains a stable return customer base ensures the consistent cash flow that is a key to a sustainable business model.
Sustainable companies with a strong brand identity put in the time and effort needed to get to know their customers’ needs, align their offerings to meet their customers’ needs while being eco-friendly, and build confidence in the products and services they offer.
Sustainable brands considering brand development need to realize that it's far more effective to deliver a simple, inspirational message than trying to explain every feature, function, or benefit of your product or service. And what better way to communicate this message than social media or your website.
3. A dedication to efficiency
Sustainable brands are efficient. They understand that inefficiency translates to waste – which is the antithesis of sustainability. For brands to become sustainable, they should improve resource management and planning strategies to eliminate inefficiencies.
So should brands embrace sustainability?
The world is changing, and we - businesses and consumers must change with it. With a growing emphasis and awareness on environmental sustainability in eCommerce, adopting sustainable practices can be a huge opportunity for businesses to grow.
As consumers are getting more eco-savvy, promoting sustainable practices as an e-retailer is a sure-shot way of attracting more consumers and increase their brand loyalty.
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