The Rise of Environmentally-Conscious Ecommerce

There is more cardboard entering our homes than ever before. Plastic packaging is filling our trash cans. We are saving our fuel expenditures in travelling to stores less, but what does this mean in terms of the ubiquitous delivery fleets combing our neighborhoods delivering orders from party supplies to single bars of soap?

Ecommerce sales were up nearly 25 percent in 2016, and its impact is only growing, which forces one question to come up again and again:

How is the business world tackling the environmental concerns of the ecommerce revolution?

A lot of these topics don’t yet have hard solutions, but there are many companies and individuals out there who are trying to make smart moves. Here are three of the biggest areas of focus:

Environmentally-Conscious Ecommerce

Cardboard boxes

The content of our landfills has changed color in recent years, with cardboard boxes becoming more and more plentful. Yes, cardboard is a biodegradable material—it is better than plastics or Styrofoam—but in the end, trash in our landfills is still trash in our landfills.

  • Idea 1: Recycling – Dennis Colley, the president of the Fibre Box Association, has emphasized his industry’s focus on being environmentally conscious, stressing that 90% of corrugated boxes come from recycled materials. This is a huge step in the right direction, but it should be noted that there is a limit to the recycling method. Each time cardboard is recycled, its fibers break down a little more, and new tree fiber is often introduced to reinforce the old. Old boxes can become new boxes again and again, but between the energy expenditure for the process and the new materials needed to supplement the old supply, recycling alone isn’t the answer.
  • Idea 2: Repurposing – One box repurposing company that’s making a huge impact is Give Back Box, which has affiliated itself with Amazon,, NewEgg, and REI to name a few of its partners. Give Back Box makes it easy for customers to take delivered boxes, fill them with unwanted clothing or shoes, print out a label, and ship the box for free to a donation center. It allows people to get rid of their boxes and the additional clutter in their homes, all while helping others less fortunate—win, win, win.
  • Idea 3: Reusing – There is a growing trend within regularly scheduled delivery services to pick up old boxes with each delivery. This re-use of supplies helps with retailer costs and consumer waste. Other companies like enable used boxes to find a new life without having to go back to a recycling plant.
  • Idea 4: Reimagining – As any toddler knows, boxes have limitless possibilities. Another box trend that seems to be on the rise is the creation of a cardboard box with a two-phase life cycle. First, perhaps, it is a box of cereal, but after the cereal has been enjoyed, cut out the pre-designed masks for a parent-child craft. First, it may be a pizza box, but if you tear it at its seams, it becomes a collection of plates for serving the pizza. Giving the cardboard more life before parting with it is efficiency of a different kind.

Plastic Packaging

Plastics can keep items protected, secure, and prevent them from spoiling, but there is no debate about how it can be devastating to the environment.

  • Idea 1: Opting out – There are environmental, cost, and convenience factors that go into a retailer’s choice of skipping plastic packaging on some items. Amazon markets their reduction in plastics as “Certified Frustration-Free Packaging,” focusing on this convenience point. With California’s 2016 ban of plastic bags, the first statewide regulation against retail plastics, the movement against unnecessary waste is gaining traction.
  • Idea 2: Alternative Materials – Just because retailers have a long history with plastics does not mean that other options are not viable. Scientists are working on materials from mycelium (mushroom fiber) to cornstalks and beyond to find other materials that can serve the same functions.

Fuel Emissions

Ecommerce delivery simply makes life easier sometimes. You save on gas money and help reduce your emissions footprint, but that isn’t the end of the fuel pollution conversation.

  • Idea 1: Last-mile partnerships – The efficiency of ecommerce delivery is impressive, but when a package gets within a few miles of its destination, this smooth process gets more complicated. Using existing delivery methods for the last few miles is one way retailers have been saving on fuel expenditures. For example, Nordstrom and 1-800-Flowers have partnered with UberRUSH; Whole Foods, Publix, Costco, and Petco have partnered with Instacart; Amazon has partnered with the USPS.
  • Idea 2: Encouraging in-store pick-up – Because that last mile can be the most fuel inefficient, some retailers, such as Walmart, encourage consumers to pick up their orders at a local store, allowing them to schedule a time that fits when they will already be out running errands or coming home from work.
  • Idea 3: Drone Delivery – Traffic and fuel-expenditure on the roads is not an issue when it comes to deliveries via drone. While not yet in use, the drone dock and delivery logistics are fascinating.
  • Idea 4: Blimp Warehouses – Because delivery from a warehouse to your house can be a slow and fuel inefficient process, some have reimagined the idea of where storage centers can be. No, this isn’t a joke, though we don’t know the viability or the timeline for such a project. Amazon did patent this technology in December of 2016, though, so who knows?

What can you do to lessen the environmental impact of your ecommerce transactions?

  • Bundle your orders together – Rather than ordering five objects in five different shipments (five different boxes, each with their own plastic fillers, each delivered at a separate time), wait until you are truly finished shopping before you process your shopping cart.
  • Recycle or reuse your packaging – There are few reasons why cardboard boxes should ever end up in the trash.
  • Minimize your returns (when possible) – Try to avoid the order-and-return mentality equivalent to brick-and-mortar store browsing. There’s a fuel expenditure cost to these actions that adds up quicker than you might realize. There will always be items that you want to return, but shopping wisely can reduce many of these occurrences.

There are so many other notes to add on this subject. For example, IKEA has pledged to produce as much renewable energy as it consumes by the year 2020. Walmart plans to have 50% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Midlothian Web Solutions will be partially powered by solar window blinds starting in the fall of 2017.

Ecommerce can often be a puzzle. Fulfilling your customers’ needs is a big piece of this, but being aware of your environmental impact is another that cannot be ignored.

Questions about how to optimize your ecommerce web strategy? Midlothian Web Solutions would be happy to help. Contact us today.

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