What is Sustainable Ecommerce?
As we transition to a future where facing down climate change and environmental catastrophe seems ever more likely, sustainability moves to the forefront of what consumers look for when they’re spending their money. We’ve seen a huge rise in sustainable brands, from fashion to food to household items. But while what we buy has become more sustainable, how we buy is now becoming more sustainable.
Ecommerce, quickly becoming the dominant means for buying products, is experiencing a sustainability revolution that should likely carry over into the future. Sustainable ecommerce is the means of selling online in a way that is environmentally and socially viable and future-oriented. While ecommerce juggernauts like Amazon control the present, sustainable ecommerce could control the future.
Sustainability ecommerce changes the standard practices of the industry by focusing on minimizing the environmental impact on the business end. This includes things like packaging, waste, and transport. Have you ever got a package from Amazon or any other ecommerce brand, where something you purchased arrived in a much too large package, with single-use plastics scattered throughout? This type of wastefulness is endemic throughout the ecommerce industry and is exactly what sustainability ecommerce seeks to combat.
Why Sustainable Ecommerce is Best Positioned for the Future
There are many reasons that sustainability ecommerce will begin to surpass the current model to become the industry standard. For one, the socially and environmentally conscious generations are about to become the most dominant spenders in the economy. Millennials and Gen-Z are two generations that have grown up in an era where climate change and global warming are important areas of discussion, and this has impacted the way they buy. One of the primary reasons that sustainability brands are so trendy right now is because people are buying. Even bigger corporations that have long histories of unsustainable practices are pivoting, because a more conscious consumer is becoming the norm. With Millennials and Gen-Z aging into higher powered and higher spending positions, the importance of sustainable ecommerce is only going to increase. The appetite for sustainability ecommerce is rapidly increasing, and this is likely to change the dynamics of the industry.
The desire for sustainability in the industry is shown in the numbers. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, there has been a 20% growth in sustainable products since 2014. There has been a 4x higher compound average growth rate in sustainable products compared to conventional products. Sustainability is now something that is becoming essential to brand messaging. Showing customers that you are future-oriented and care about your impact will boost your social media, and has a good chance of drumming up customers and increasing their loyalty.
Another reason that sustainability ecommerce is likely to continue its growth is that it is built for the future. While margins might be lower right now, having a wasteful business could in the future result in danger for your company. Environmental regulations are already something that businesses must consider around the world, and as the threat of climate change worsens, many industries are going to have to adjust.
According to a 2014 report by Intelex, 972 environmental regulations are affecting the manufacturing industry in the United States of America, a country not known for regulating businesses. The number of regulations businesses face will only increase, and the ecommerce industry will be subject to change as well. Having a sustainable ecommerce process in place will position companies to be able to adapt to the future. Being side-tracked because your business isn’t able to adapt to a more sustainable commerce eco-system, where companies are held more accountable for waste and impact, is unnecessary when sustainable ecommerce solutions are already out there.
Ecommerce vs Brick-and-Mortar Sustainability
Sustainability ecommerce is more viable for the future of business and caters to a growing demographic of consumers that are focused on their impact. Some wonder though, if brick and mortar shopping might be an environmentally-friendlier option. This is a mistake, as ecommerce is already better for the environment than the business model that preceded it. According to a landmark study by MIT conducted in 2013, online shopping is far friendlier to the environment than brick-and-mortar retail. The study concluded that buyers who exclusively online shop have a carbon footprint up to 2x smaller than those who exclusively shop traditionally.
This doesn’t mean that all ecommerce is sustainable. The decisions consumers make impact the sustainability of an ecommerce brand. If consumers prioritize speed and efficiency in their delivery, then the result might not be a sustainable process. For example, if a company is delivering your product to you from across the country in mere days, chances are they used air travel and prioritized speed over consolidating products together. This means the carbon footprint of your delivery would’ve been much higher than if you had just bought the product in a store.
That is why sustainable ecommerce is important. Instead of solely focusing on speed, sustainability ecommerce gets users their product in a way that doesn’t raise their carbon footprint drastically. While everyone loves when their products appear on their door the next day, curbing some of our impulses to better the environment is something we are all going to have to do in the future.
Mass consumerism has resulted in a mindset where convenience trumps everything else, but as we’ve come to learn, this isn’t something that can last forever, and those days are coming to an end. That is why sustainable ecommerce is extremely well-positioned for the future: while still providing a desirable and convenient service, it gets done in a way that doesn't further the climate crisis.
Ecommerce is quite simply, the obvious future of shopping. According to Digital Commerce 360, online spending represented 21.3% of retail sales in 2020. This was up 44% from the year before, and every year the percentages grow. All trends indicate that the digital marketplace is very likely to surpass brick and mortar in the future. And like all industries, ecommerce is going to have to face down an environmental crisis, and the social and regulatory responses that will come from it. That is why sustainability ecommerce is positioned as the direction the industry will trend towards. With changing demographics spurring a different consumer attitude, sustainability represents the future.