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Starting an online business is more popular than ever and for good reason. The world of eCommerce offers nearly infinite possibilities and can be an exciting prospect in terms of expanding your reach and increasing sales in a global market. What’s more, online businesses produce fewer emissions than traditional brick-and-mortar retail shops, allowing you to promote environmental stewardship with every product sold. We call this, sustainable eCommerce.

However, online eCommerce businesses can still leave a hefty mark on the environment. From carbon emissions via the shipping, manufacturing, and order fulfillment processes, to excess packaging on the consumer end.

New business owners looking to reduce waste and negate the environmental impact of their online company have plenty of tools at their disposal. And sustainability starts with an initial green vision. You want to structure your eCommerce company around sustainability and waste reduction, to be well-equipped to succeed in an uncertain environmental future. Here’s what you need to know.

What is sustainable eCommerce?

When it comes to eCommerce waste generation, plastic packaging is one of the industry’s most glaring issues. In 2019 alone, the eCommerce giant Amazon shipped more than 7 billion packages, generating some 465 million pounds of waste in the process. Despite being highly recyclable, the majority of plastic packaging from eCommerce shopping ends up in landfills or pollutes the world’s waterways and marine ecosystems.

Numerous forward-thinking companies have successfully incorporated sustainability into their overall business model, to varying degrees of success, including Toms, Patagonia, and Tropic Skincare. The latter Australian-based company was built with sustainability as a business foundation, e.g. they use responsibly sourced and cruelty-free ingredients. What’s more, Tropic Skincare is certified as carbon neutral, and partners with United World Schools to help fund education in impoverished communities.

For its part, Patagonia lives up to its commitment to sustainability in numerous ways. The apparel company ranks among the most sustainable companies in the world. One notable development is Patagonia’s work to keep its products out of landfills. The company is further committed to social sustainability, by paying workers a living wage. It’s no wonder their loyal customers keep coming back. Aspiring entrepreneurs should thus look to Patagonia’s successful sustainable eCommerce model for inspiration.

Building a sustainable business online

The aforementioned companies have succeeded in large part because they never wavered from their initial mission of creating a better world. Aspiring entrepreneurs with a similar mindset can likewise do their part to keep sustainable eCommerce alive, starting from the ground up.

As far as business sustainability is concerned, there is a myriad of benefits. For one, sustainability can create a lasting positive workplace culture and environment, as we explain. You see, workers are more productive when they’re happy, according to legal experts, and sustainable initiatives bring about a sense of purpose, which boosts employee happiness. To build a positive work environment, your company goals and values should resonate with employees and make them feel as though they’re making a difference.

If you hope to implement waste reduction policies within an existing eCommerce company, ask your employees about the environmental issues that are important to them. Then, incorporate that feedback into future sustainability initiatives, and you’re likely to see a boost in both employee morale and overall sales.

Reducing waste: Tips and tricks

When starting an online business that’s committed to sustainability, there’s a lot to consider. Sustainable eCommerce involves the mindful consideration of packaging, energy needs, carbon output, shipping distances, and beyond. To reduce waste at the company level, consider the following:

Keep things close to home

The simple act of transporting your company’s goods to the end consumer wreaks havoc on the environment. The Climate Portal at MIT reports that freight cargo is responsible for 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and trucks are the primary culprit. To reduce carbon emissions from business-related transport, consider only shipping locally and sourcing from local and regional suppliers whenever possible.

If you’re looking to reduce your total business emissions, you’ll need to calculate your carbon footprint, which is made easy with the Green Business Bureau, as we grant you access to our online carbon footprint calculator. By measuring your carbon footprint you’re better placed to manage and reduce your business emissions. For emissions that can’t be reduced, look to purchase carbon offsets.

Make your home office eco friendly

So many offices transitioned to a remote-only style of work and many of them are continuing to exist in that manner. One easy way for the sustainable eCommerce worker to reduce waste is to address their home office. The reduced carbon emissions from cutting travel requirements to and from the office is already bound to have a major impact on sustainability, but there is still more that can be done individually when designing and operating within your home office.

There are many sustainable actions for remote workers looking to reduce their own waste: From simple changes like composting and recycling to more extensive changes like installing smart appliances and energy-efficient HVAC systems. As more and more offices make the sustainable decision to move into remote work, it now falls onto the workers to ensure their new workspace is sustainable and energy-efficient.

Invest in eco-friendly packaging

Whatever your product catalog, packaging and shipping are crucial components of every eCommerce company. But fulfilling orders doesn’t have to be a wasteful process: When striving towards greater waste reduction, avoid single-use plastics, and consider using recycled cardboard when possible. Eco-friendly packaging may cost more at the outset, but it pays dividends when it comes to waste reduction.

It’s important to note that some industries are better equipped to deal with waste than others. Your company’s waste reduction plans should consider the individual needs of your company, and the best methods for handling refuse and emissions. Sustainable catering companies, for example, may want to consider composting leftover food waste, while an apparel company can do its part and purchase fabric from fair trade certified suppliers.

Make Use of Carbon Offsets

For new business owners looking to reduce their carbon footprint, carbon offsets are an attractive option. You may not have the funds to invest in solar panels or electric vehicles, but companies can offset their emissions with the purchase of so-called energy credits or certificates. Keep in mind that options for carbon offsets, green business certification, and renewable energy credits may vary depending on the location of your business.

Showcase your commitment to sustainability using the Green Business Bureau

As the world continues to feel the negative effects of climate change, the importance of business sustainability is readily apparent, no matter your industry. You can bring about lasting change by starting your eCommerce company down a sustainable path from the outset and keeping waste reduction in mind in every aspect of your business plan.

Working hard to create a sustainable business is not something that should go unnoticed. It’s important your efforts are recognized through accurate and honest communication. This allows your stakeholders to make informed choices, and it also propels sustainable development by creating an open environment for collaboration and communication between businesses, the community, and governmental bodies. And this is where the Green Business Bureau (GBB) can help.

Running through GBB’s EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner means organizations are well-positioned to measure, manage and track how their business is performing on the sustainability agenda. Organizations can target specific initiatives, and check off those initiatives once they’ve come to completion. Successes can then be communicated to stakeholders using an organization’s public EcoProfile. Once more, the business will receive a green seal of approval to showcase their efforts.

Click here to sign up to the Green Business Bureau to build a better, greener, eCommerce business.

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