Shipping & Fulfillment

Reducing the Environmental Impact of Ecommerce

Ecommerce as an industry is not climate-friendly. Packaging from merchants litters the oceans and occupies landfills. Delivery trucks spew pollutants.

But many sellers are attempting to improve. Third-party monitoring tools can help. For example, Planetly offers a Climate Impact Manager to identify a company’s carbon emission hotspots — such as packaging and logistics — to know where to focus.

Carbon Offsets

Carbon emissions are unavoidable for most businesses. Carbon offsetting can counterbalance emissions. A factory in the U.S. may calculate its annual carbon footprint and then pay for tree planting in Africa. The trees will, theoretically, absorb an equivalent amount of CO2 every year. The company can then claim to be carbon-neutral, even if it expels the same amount of CO2 each year.

Ecommerce companies have multiple offset options.

  • Shopify merchants can add its Offset app to their sites. In conjunction with Shopify’s Sustainability Fund, the Offset Shop Pay facility enables companies to offer 100% carbon-neutral deliveries to their customers. The app calculates the emissions of each order during shipping based on distance, transportation, and package weight.
  • Climate Partner provides carbon offsets for ecommerce companies, including hydropower and reforestation. Climate Partner’s ID number allows customers to track carbon offsets associated with their orders.
  • Etsy offsets all carbon emissions from the packing and delivery of all orders. Etsy’s offsets include solar farms, wind farms, and tree planting.
  • Carbonfund’s Carbon-free Shipping Program helps ecommerce and transport companies with its shipping calculator to measure the carbon footprint of orders. Carbonfund’s offsetting options are energy efficiency, renewable energy, and forestry.

Sustainable Packaging

Recyclable packaging materials now include biofilm, a bio-polymer made from sugar cane and promoted as a proactively green alternative to standard polythene. The sugar cane in biofilm captures CO2 while simultaneously releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

While biofilm is more expensive than ordinary polythene, other costs will decrease if there’s less packaging used.

One reduction method is with machines that build packages based on the order size.

For example, packaging machinery from Sparck Technologies fits the size and shape of packing material with the product(s). For the customer, there is less material to throw away or recycle. For the business, there is a lower cost.

Compact, customized packages mean maximizing space in delivery vehicles and reducing the number of vehicles (and carbon emissions) in transit. Note, however, packaging machine capabilities vary and may not work with all materials or products.

Avoid Packaging Waste

Ecommerce sellers can cut waste by setting default packaging for every product sold. When a customer places an order, fulfillment staff instantly knows the optimum packaging for the product.

An alternative is to implement software such as ShipStation, which has packaging, automation, and custom packing presets, ensuring the correct assignment and specifications for each order.

Some shipping apps will also identify separate orders from one customer, enabling consolidation into a single package when appropriate.

Eco-friendly shipping

The options for reducing the impact of ecommerce shipping continue to grow. Most carrier fleets include electric vehicles, for example.

DHL reports that 11% of carbon emissions are from worldwide freight transport. A large portion of this is from last-mile shipping.

One way to reduce the last-mile impact is to provide local pick-up points for customers to collect orders rather than having products delivered to their door. Amazon has thousands of such delivery hubs.

Offering customers a green checkout option promotes sustainable shipping options. The delivery may take a little longer, but it meets the increasing demand from shoppers for climate-friendly practices.

Pete Bruckshaw
Pete Bruckshaw
Bio   •   RSS Feed