Written by Starshipit
This guest blog was written by Trevor Topfer, Marketing Manager at Better Packaging, a sustainable packaging solution that supports eCommerce and retail.
Recent research indicates that over half of consumers would be “more willing to purchase from a retailer who offered more sustainable packaging or shipping options.” Over half!
To date, most companies’ sustainability focus has been on how their products are made and what from, but your entire supply chain should in fact be considered ripe for ‘greening’. New eCommerce players entering the market are leading with their focus on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a point of difference winning market share from their less sustainably-minded incumbents.
From the sourcing of raw materials, shipping those raw materials to a factory, manufacturing of the product, packaging, and then shipping to your distribution centre, potentially repackaging that product before shipping it to your customer, how it gets used and finally disposed of at the end of its lifespan. There are a lot of opportunities in the product life cycle to reduce the environmental impact.
Some of the fastest, simplest and most cost-effective aspects of this lifecycle that can be impacted are in the supply chain. The shipping of raw materials and product is notorious for using single-use virgin plastics, however, there are a wide variety of alternatives that can reduce the overall impact.
Here are our top 9 ways to improve the sustainability of your supply chain while improving your customer experience by aligning values … and maybe even improve your bottom line.
This one might not be possible, but it is worth investigating since the impact this will have on your carbon footprint (and often the cost of production) can be enormous.
Is there a factory closer to the source of your raw materials that could produce that product; thereby reducing the amount of shipping required in production? What about the other way around?
CASE STUDY: Mister Zimi are a medium to large eCommerce business producing resort-wear style women’s clothing. They have a strong focus on sustainability and are actively finding ways to reduce their impact and align with the demand from their customers for more sustainable products. During their quest to reduce their overall impact, they wanted to reduce (or remove) the use of single-use, virgin plastics from their supply chain. Their factories in Asia were shipping their garments all over the world individually wrapped in plastic garment bags (to protect them). They recognised that garment bags were performing an important role (since ruined product is far more environmentally damaging and wasteful than the plastic garment bag itself) so set about sourcing an alternative to virgin plastic poly bags. They sourced compostable garment bags that are now shipped directly to their Asian manufacturers so they can use them instead.
Matching supply with demand in multiple markets is an ongoing dance for every business. Having just the right amount of stock in each warehouse at any given time is challenging. Maximising cash flow through accurate forecasting can be fundamental to most businesses.
As most eCommerce businesses know, having to short-order and fast ship product to individual warehouses can be very costly, not to mention how carbon-intensive air freight is! Whilst it may not always be possible, ordering in bulk and shipping stock less often can make an enormous impact on your CSR goals.
Alternatives now exist for plastic pallet wrap. Compostable bio-based wrap can be a direct swap and reusable pallet wrap is a great sustainable option too. Google ‘reusable pallet wrap’ to find suppliers in your part of the world.
Another example of shipping in bulk is to offer larger quantities to your customers. For example, the Zero Waste Cartel only offer their bamboo toothbrushes in packs of ten, reducing the need to ship them in singular or small quantities (more often).
While you may need to offer Express Shipping as an option, be aware of the additional footprint associated with this service. Express Shipping often means that parcels aren’t consolidated into larger trucks and efficiencies in the courier network aren’t maximised.
Returns also have an impact; it’s another courier trip and potentially more packaging. Is there a better way to manage returns (see below!)?
Arguably one of the easier and faster ways to reduce your footprint is to purchase carbon credits to offset your impact. There are several services now available (like Carbon Fund) that will help you determine the right amount of offset. If the cost of offsetting eats too far into your margins, try offering this at checkout for an additional fee. You will be surprised how many of your customers are willing to pay a bit extra to reduce the impact of their purchase.
Note: Do your research before choosing your carbon offset provider. Try to find an organisation that supports programmes that align with your brand and ensure they are operating ethically with your (or your customer’s) money.
There are many shipping and fulfilment partners out there offering environmentally friendly options. FedEx, for example, has its Earth Smart initiative. This helps them to be environmentally conscious with its fuel-efficiency, sustainable packaging, and green vehicle options.
UPS also offers sustainable shipping and fulfilment solutions with eco-friendly packaging options that include reusable envelopes and an environmentally friendly packaging program.
Plus, you can look for shipping and logistics companies that are certified with SmartWay, an EPA program focused on reducing fuel consumption and increasing efficiency.
Take a moment to review the packaging for your product. Where is it sourced? How is it made? How much plastic is being used? Is it virgin plastic or recycled? When it comes to negative environmental impact, product packaging is often one of the biggest offenders. eCommerce businesses are often more focused on aesthetics and customer experience rather than reducing environmental impact. However, the growing demand for sustainable packaging is driving consumer purchasing behaviour. Here are 3 ways to reduce the impact of your packaging.
CASE STUDY: Flora & Fauna is a great example of an eCommerce business whose product packaging doubles as the mailer itself. Rather than putting a box inside a mailer, they simply put the shipping labels directly onto their packaging and send it to their customers.
CASE STUDY: The Smile High Club supply high-end sonic toothbrushes on a subscription service. They were determined to minimise the amount of packaging required to get their product into the hands of their customers. Working with their manufacturers, they altered the packaging production process to utilise recycled stock and reduce the overall size of the packaging with (almost) no wasted space. Through their subscription process, they have managed to further reduce packaging by supplying replacement heads in a separate small box. The benefits of this mean they can ship more product in each order reducing their overall cost of goods and less packaging has reduced the cost of shipping to their customers.
Eco-friendly compostable mailers are readily available. The Better Packaging Co have a broad range of off-the-shelf options that you can simply swap for your current mailers. They also offer custom packaging to suit your branding or product requirements. This B Corp is the world’s leaders in sustainable packaging and has lifted the game with their 120% carbon off-set (carbon negative, climate-positive) certified home compostable mailers.
Circular or Re-usable Mailers: We know that many eCommerce fashion retailers offer a free returns policy as part of their sales process. This encourages shoppers to buy two of the same item (in different sizes), so they can simply return the one they do not want. With reusable mailers, the environmental impact of this process can be massively reduced. Reusable mailers are likely to become the future of packaging since they can be used over and over, refurbished and re-introduced to the market, again and again, making them a truly circular option.
Reusable packaging is particularly suitable for businesses operating the following models:
Help your customers further reduce the impact of your mailers, by educating them around composting them properly or by providing them recycling options such as The Better Packaging Co’s bcollected network.
Reduce paperwork by opting for digital processes – such as invoices, packing slips, tracking numbers and the like. There are barcode/QR code-driven options available throughout the supply chain that will massively reduce unnecessary paper. Review the processes involved in your product lifecycle and see if you can find ways to remove paperwork completely. Email or SMS communications for tracking items, barcode or QR code scanning for logistics, digital signage/advertising over paper billboards, email marketing over snail mail, the list goes on and on.
Automate as much of the fulfilment process as possible. Using fulfilment automation software can massively reduce the man-hours and waste associated with your supply chain.
If you aren’t measuring your impact, how do you know if your CSR efforts are achieving the outcomes you want? By measuring the impact of your items, you can track your progress against your goals and communicate this confidently to your customers.
There are several providers in the market offering a straightforward way to measure your carbon footprint and giving options to purchase offsets. We really like the simplicity of CarbonClick who provide calculator tools to measure your impact and options for purchasing offsets. They are also offering carbon off-setting for individuals as well as business – pretty cool really.
If there’s one take-home message here it’s this: Start today with one thing. Sustainability is a journey, not a quick fix. It’s important to communicate what you are doing and what you plan to do. Take your customers and team on the journey with you. Have a long-term goal in mind and map the steps toward it. Do your research and talk to others who are also on their sustainability journey. Collaboration often makes things much easier and helps to avoid pitfalls.
Again, just start. there’s never been a better time.