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How Your eCommerce Brand Can Be More Sustainable

Consumers care about your brand’s impact on the planet. This interest continues to amplify, with 90% of consumers saying they are equally or more concerned with environmental issues now compared to before the pandemic. Another survey reported that nearly three-quarters (72%) of consumers are actively purchasing more environmentally friendly products than they did five years ago. 

Have you thought about how your brand can be more sustainable? What does “sustainable” even mean? The US Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as creating and maintaining a balance between humans and nature to support present and future generations. In other words, it’s about finding a way for businesses to thrive and humans to live while keeping the planet healthy for our kids and our kids’ kids. Sustainability also can include social responsibility that takes into consideration how a company treats and affects its workers, communities, and customers. 

When it comes to creating a more sustainable business, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. Sustainability solutions can range from supporting environmental and social causes (like eHouse Studio client 4ocean does) to offsetting carbon emissions to integrating more sustainable practices into product development and operations.

Why sustainability matters for your business

It’s no secret that businesses and customers need to change how they produce and consume goods in order to reduce negative impacts on the environment. In addition to being the “right” thing to do for the Earth and society, becoming more sustainable can be a smart business decision for growing DTC brands. Just look at the stock market. Investment research company Morningstar reported that new investment in sustainable funds, which sell shares in companies that are socially and/or environmentally conscious, doubled from 2019 to more than $51 billion

Also, aligning your eCommerce brand with your customers’ personal values, such as environmental and social issues, can be a powerful business strategy. Creating and nurturing these emotional connections can grow strong brand loyalty and increase customer lifetime value (CLTV).   

Offset your carbon footprint

Your carbon footprint is a calculation of the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide, that are produced as a result of doing business. By purchasing carbon offsets, a business funds project that cut emissions somewhere in the world, essentially helping to balance out and even reduce total future emissions. Offsets can include tree planting and projects for renewable energy. Although purchasing carbon offsets shouldn’t let businesses off the hook for finding ways to make their business practices greener, it does help neutralize emissions that currently are unavoidable, like those produced by shipping.

“With retail increasingly moving to eCommerce, we’re seeing a proportionate increase in the negative impact online shopping has on the environment. However, becoming sustainable can be really overwhelming for a lot of brands and carbon offsetting is a great solution when implemented correctly. With a partner trusted by thousands of eCommerce brands like EcoCart, brands can mitigate the environmental impact of not only shipping but also manufacturing their products to become more sustainable without significant upfront investment or the headache that comes with it.” - Dane Baker, Co-founder of EcoCart, a plugin for eCommerce stores to offer carbon-neutral orders.

How can you offset your brand’s carbon footprint? There are tools for that, to help simplify implementation. For example, every eCommerce purchase made through Shopify’s Shop app automatically funds tree restoration projects to offset emissions generated from shipping. At no extra cost for merchants or customers, if you’re a Shopify eCommerce store, this is a relatively easy first step to shifting to becoming more sustainable. 

Another good tool we’ve found is Cloverly, which is an app in the Shopify ecosystem that provides customers with the option to add a small extra fee to their cart to make their deliveries carbon neutral. Cloverly automatically calculates the fee based on how far the order will ship, how heavy it is, and how it will be transported, and then purchases the offsets. Also important, the customer receives a receipt that highlights the project funded, where it’s located, and the amount of emissions that were offset. 

Shipping vendors like UPS and DHL also have carbon offset programs that businesses can opt in to. 

Reduce waste

A more substantial step to take in making your business more sustainable is to make your business practices and products more eco-friendly. This can include using reusable or recyclable packaging, upcycling waste from production to create other products, or finding ways to resell or donate products that otherwise would be landfilled. Rent-the-Runway is a classic example of a more sustainable business model that helps reduce consumption of and waste from fashion. The company also provides reusable garment bags for shipments and returns and partners with a company to make alternative-wood decking from the plastic bags that protect the clothing. 

Denim brand Madewell partnered with thredUp, which provides “resale-as-a-service” to create the Madewell Archive, featuring one-of-a-kind, pre-owned (aka second-hand) jeans. Cariuma (powered by Shopify), a company that focuses on using renewable and organic materials and fair hours and wages for its factory workers, also donates “gently-worn” and sample sneakers to a nonprofit that distributes them to underserved communities. Girlfriend Collective (powered by Shopify) asks customers to send back old leggings and shorts, which they upcycle into new products.

Make products that clean up the environment 

Your brand also can make products that directly help the environment. A good example is eHouse client 4ocean (powered by Shopify), which commits to pulling a pound of trash out of the ocean for each product sold on its eCommerce site. Their products like bracelets and phone cases are made from recycled materials that come from the ocean clean-up efforts. 

Other brands, including Rothy’s, Allbirds, and Outerknown (all powered by Shopify), use recycled plastic, polyester, and other materials that otherwise would be a waste stream to create apparel and shoes. The brand TUSHY (powered by Shopify) is focused on minimizing water waste and donating a portion of its profits to those in need by building community toilets to help people lead healthier and more dignified lives. 

Communicating about your sustainability program to consumers

Educating consumers about your sustainability efforts is important – they won’t know unless you tell them. Not only is this marketing and outreach good for your business, at a larger scale, you’re helping to turn the tide towards more sustainable business practices overall. 

What can you do to let customers know about your commitment to sustainability? Following are a few ideas:

  • Show the numbers. Be clear and transparent about the impact of carbon offsets or a product made from recycled materials by showing clear benefits, such as the number of trees planted or gallons of water saved.  You can do this with marketing copy and infographics, as bidet company TUSHY does, or with a carbon offset calculator tool like Shop or Cloverly at checkout. 
  • Explain why. Sharing your brand’s reasons behind becoming more sustainable and how you’re doing it can create stronger connections with your customers – and can also be a great story about your process, challenges, and successes. 
  • Bring customers along for the ride. Extend the good feelings to customers by letting them show their commitment to purchasing from you or supporting environmental and social causes. For example, 4ocean’s bracelets are not only made from recycled materials, by wearing them, but customers also show that they are part of a community with similar values. On the 4ocean site, customers can see the impact they are making directly on the homepage. ADD SCREENSHOT
  • Make it core. If you integrate sustainability more broadly into your business model, be sure to also incorporate it into your company culture and values – your commitment could affect your mission, vision, branding, and marketing. 

Most important: Be sincere

Sustainability efforts shouldn’t be window dressing. While there are many ways to approach becoming a more sustainable eCommerce brand, your efforts need to be sincere, honest and resonate with the values of your customers. Want to talk sustainability strategy and technology on Shopify Plus? We’re here to help, give us a shout.