Sustainable Ecommerce: Satisfy Demand for Eco-Friendly Online Shopping

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The rise of ecommerce website builders and the resulting surge of online retailers means that customers have their pick of the shops. So what sets one online store apart from another? 

Well, given that consumers are increasingly looking for sustainable ecommerce solutions – aka brands that take active steps to protect the natural world – sustainability is already a key focus for ecommerce companies and it’s only set to be more essential in the years ahead. 

If you’re an online business owner then sustainable ecommerce needs to be a priority, and in this article, we’ll explore how you can satisfy a growing demand for eco-friendly online shopping. 

What Is Sustainable Ecommerce?

Sustainable ecommerce is the practice of selling items online in an eco-friendly way that has as little impact on the environment as possible. 

With a more urgent focus on saving the planet, sustainable ecommerce is becoming an increasingly important focus for online businesses. 

Why Is It Important? 

Going green is important – we all know that – and as a business, you have a responsibility to ensure your practices aren’t harming the environment. 

Sustainable ecommerce is particularly key for retail brands as consumers are shopping in new ways and looking for brands that offer sustainable items, operate sustainable methods, and give back to the planet. 

If you want to attract customers to your online store now and in the future, you need to put sustainability at the core of your business operations.

The Rise of Eco-Conscious Consumers

With each online purchase comes a delivery, and with each delivery comes a delivery method. Depending on where your item comes from, it could easily travel via plane, boat, and car before it reaches a customer’s front door. 

In fact, by 2030 the number of delivery vehicles on the road is expected to have risen by 36%. There is no escaping the reality that ecommerce can be detrimental to the environment. 

It’s your job, therefore, as an ecommerce business owner to find ways to combat this. Why? Shoppers are becoming increasingly more aware of the impact their shopping habits have and are looking for more eco-friendly ways to shop online.

73% of shoppers have stated that they would change the way they shop based on the environmental impact their purchasing decisions have, which means you can’t afford to ignore sustainable ecommerce any longer. The future of fashion is green!

How to Build a Sustainable Ecommerce Business

There are various ways you can introduce eco-friendly practices to your operations to build a sustainable ecommerce business. 

Build a Sustainable Online Store

Although an online store doesn’t exist in the same way a brick-and-mortar store does, all the data your website holds still has to be stored somewhere. Plus, the hardware gets hot, so that means lots of air-con to keep it cool. Long story short – your online store might be harming the environment more than you think. To combat this, try to choose a green hosting provider that does work to mitigate its harmful environmental impact. 

Ethical Sourcing and Procurement

If you source products from wholesalers or manufacturers to sell online then it’s important to make sure you are selecting the right brands to work with. Before committing to a particular company, research the working conditions, systems, and methods used to ensure you are selecting products from a sustainable source.

Eco-Friendly Packaging Solutions 

Sustainable packaging is one of the easiest ways to make your business more environmentally conscious. Choose eco-friendly materials and avoid non-recyclables such as plastic. You can also overhaul your packaging methods to ensure you aren’t overpacking items – a candle doesn’t need to be delivered in the same size box as a sofa, for example. 

Carbon-Neutral Shipping Options

Getting your products from warehouse to customer sustainably is hard but there are steps you can take. Major carriers such as UPS and FedEx offer eco-friendly programs you can use and if you can reduce the chance of returns by providing clear product descriptions and images, you’ll be helping to ensure the items aren’t making unnecessary journeys. 

UPS carbon neutral goals
UPS is aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Fair Labor Practices Throughout the Supply Chain

Running a sustainable ecommerce business isn’t just about protecting the planet – you need to protect your workers, too. It’s crucial to ensure fair labor practices at every point of your supply chain from the factories to the fulfillment centre to your in-house team. 

Showcase Your Efforts 

Shout about your sustainability efforts in your marketing and across your ecommerce website. Make sure potential customers know what steps you’re taking and that your ethos aligns with theirs. 

Sustainable Business Examples

Stuck for some sustainable business ideas? We’ve listed some below that are sure to prove popular with online shoppers.

  • Reusable water bottles made from recycled plastic bottles.
  • Clothing made from recycled fast fashion garments.
  • Cruelty free cosmetics.
  • Organic event catering.
  • Landscaping and gardening with an eco-focus. 

What Is Technology's Role in Sustainable Ecommerce?

Technological innovations are helping to drive sustainable ecommerce. Everything from sustainable packaging made from recycled materials to the use of logistics AI to optimize the supply chain and ensure it’s as sustainable as possible is now available to ecommerce business owners. 

You can even make your website sustainable thanks to green web hosts. A green web host mitigates any environmental impact of running your website and sustainably runs its data centers. Some green web hosts to consider include GoDaddy, HostGator, and Green Geeks.

Challenges in Implementing Sustainable Practices

You might face some challenges when implementing sustainable practices for your ecommerce business but these tips should help you to overcome them and keep you on the path to sustainable success. 

Supply chain complexities – You need your supply chain to be as transparent as possible but that isn’t always easy. Try to keep your supply chain as simple as possible and source your items as close to home as you can. Be open with manufacturers and suppliers and tell them that you’re looking for sustainable options from the get-go. 

Cost-effectiveness – While making sustainable choices may reduce the cost to the planet, chances are it’s going to increase the cost to your wallet. Greener options are often more expensive so it’s important to be thorough when planning your budget. Try selling some high-margin products on your online store to help keep your profit margins high.

Greenwashing – Greenwashing is when a company spends more time and money on marketing itself as sustainable than it does actually being sustainable. Anyone can throw the eco-friendly claim around but it’s important to put the work in – after all, actions speak louder than words. Be honest with your customers about areas you can improve in too. You don’t need to claim to be perfect. 

Success Story: Leading the Way in Sustainable Ecommerce

There are plenty of ecommerce brands leading the way for sustainable ecommerce efforts but one of our favourites is Patagonia. 

The apparel brand is listed as one of the most sustainable brands worldwide. This is incredibly impressive, but it’s easy to see why the brand has earned this accolade.

Patagonia ensures the materials that make its clothing are as sustainable as possible, is committed to ensuring everyone in its supply chain earns a living wage, and funds various educational schemes. 

They also work with pre-loved brand Worn Wear to ensure second-hand Patagonia items find a new home and avoid ending up in landfills. 

Patagonia sustainability page
The Patagonia sustainability page is full of information and engaging videos on the brand's sustainability work.

Patagonia has a page on its website dedicated to its sustainable efforts, with detailed information for customers to learn more about the materials and supply chain of Patagonia products. 

This is one of our favorite sustainable business examples and we recommend checking out the Patagonia sustainability page for inspiration on how to present your own sustainability efforts to your customers. 

Future Trends in Sustainable Ecommerce

Sustainable ecommerce is going nowhere and whether you’re building a small ecommerce business or a large-scale corporation, our experts have predicted some of the trends that you can expect to see in the future:

  • New and emerging technologies and innovations will continue to shape the future of sustainable practices. 
  • Consumer behavior will shift even more towards eco-conscious decisions.
  • New opportunities will arise for sustainable business ideas including sustainable takes on existing products and brand-new services to enhance sustainability throughout the supply chain. 
  • Common barriers to sustainable adoption such as cost and accessibility will continue to be broken down, making sustainable ecommerce available to all. 

Sustainable Ecommerce: Summary

From sourcing sustainable ecommerce packaging to investing in sustainable materials for your products, there are plenty of sustainable ecommerce solutions you can adopt as part of your business operations.

The most important thing, though, is to embrace sustainability and be willing to actively put it at the heart of your online business. 

Sustainability is an issue that impacts us all and if you’re able to create more sustainable products, supply chains, and customer experiences, you’ll be putting yourself way ahead of your competition. 

Ready for some ideas for sustainable products to sell online? Why not check out our top ten list next?  

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes! Ecommerce can be a sustainable industry, thanks to various new innovations. If you run an ecommerce business you can implement sustainable practices within your supply chain, use recycled packaging materials, and introduce sustainable customer experience schemes such as pre-loved marketplaces and carbon-offsetting donations. 

The reality is that often the more sustainable options are also more expensive, however, by adopting sustainable ecommerce, you’ll be a more attractive prospect to customers in the future, offering you a major sales boost.

Greenwashing is a term used to describe businesses that focus more on marketing themselves as sustainable without backing up those claims. If you want to position yourself as a sustainable business, you need to ensure you actually are one.

Written by:
Black and white headshot of Lucy Nixon smiling at the camera
I’ve been a content writer for Website Builder Expert since 2021. Through almost a decade in the digital marketing industry, I’ve built up knowledge on everything from growing ecommerce businesses to building websites. I love breaking down tricky topics into digestible and engaging content for readers. Breaking down the jargon and uncovering the best platforms, tools, and strategies, I’m a meticulous researcher who’s committed to providing our readers with tips and advice that’s tried and tested.

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