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4 Green Steps To a Sustainable Supply Chain

eCommerce shipping is hard on the planet. Here's how you can help.
4 Green Steps To a Sustainable Supply Chain
Ian Heinig

By Ian Heinig

 

October 21, 2021

Online shopping takes place up in the cloud, but its consequences are increasingly felt down on Earth. Parcel deliveries are forecast to increase 78% by 2030 on the back of eCommerce, raising emissions by 32% in the process.

Fortunately, sustainable supply chain practices are gaining traction with shoppers. Offering green shipping and fulfillment can generate goodwill and growth for your brand, with a splash of saving the planet to boot.

Supply chain sustainability is a set of practices that consider the environmental and human impact of your company’s products at every stage, from sourcing materials to production, storage to transport, and up to final delivery.

Each supply chain is different, but most brands maintain a lengthy sequence from product supplier to end-consumer. Source goods overseas, import via freight, package individually, truck it along last mile ... there are certainly areas for reducing waste and emissions.

1. Make a Plan

Your personal goals give life to a sustainable supply chain. Adjusting how you source and distribute products, it’s gonna take a bit of work. You’ll be more likely to follow through if you pursue initiatives close to your heart.

Research shows that almost all of a company’s environmental impact comes from the supply chain. In other words, there’s plenty of areas of improvement to choose from. Here are a few ways you can be more sustainable with your supply chain:

  • Reduce emissions with alternate shipping and fulfillment methods
  • Reduce waste with sustainable packaging practices
  • Source products consciously
  • Partner with humane labor employers

Once you’ve chosen your areas of improvement, make a plan for action. Map out where your company can cut back on fossil fuels, waste, and support sustainable partners in your supply chain. Also, make sure to calculate the cost differential of using eco-alternates to ensure these changes work long-term.

2. Engage Your Customers

Short on time and productive ideas, we as consumers have largely decided to enact climate change via our wallets. According to Nielsen, nearly half of US shoppers say they would change their buying habits to help the environment. And 81% say that companies should help improve the environment.

Winning over eco-friendly customers has a lot to do with how you source products. Buyers have shown themselves willing to spend up to 10% more for products sourced consciously within a transparent supply chain. Examples? Fair trade coffee and Toms shoes. Sustainable goods cost more, though, so you’ll need to charge more.

Before you go raising prices, brand yourself as eco-conscious. This will allow you to attract those value-driven customers willing to pay more for sustainable products. It’s important to tweak your messaging on all channels to reflect your policies, including on your green shipping policy page.

Marketing your green policies is vital, and best done using both words and pictures. You can use a tool like Pachama to display to customers how much carbon you’ve eliminated in terms of forest saved.

3. Reduce Your Petroleum Use

The global supply chain runs on gasoline, whether your parcels (or palettes) are flown, trucked, or shipped via ocean liner. Your product may also be a petroleum product. One practical way to reduce your carbon footprint is to shorten the distance your items travel within a sustainable supply chain.

A few ideas for reducing your reliance on fossil fuels:

  • Use green courier services: DHL offers a carbon-neutral shipping option called GoGreen that offsets transport-related emissions through climate protection projects. Though green shipping is more costly, one study found that a majority of online shoppers say they’re willing to pay up to 5% more for sustainably delivered products.
  • Source products proximately: The less gasoline used to transport products from supplier to warehouse to customer, the greener your business. Opting for suppliers nearer to your origin fulfillment location helps. You can also look at the distribution lines used by transport carriers and use those with the most direct distribution routes.  
  • Consider fulfillment centers: Fulfillment centers store your inventory in their warehouse and fulfill shipments to the surrounding region. If you choose strategic partners in customer-dense regions, you can effectively cut carbon output while also accelerating delivery lead times and saving time on fulfillment.

3. Package Sustainably for Less Waste

Use of plastics in eCommerce hit 2.1 billion pounds in 2019, and is expected to double by 2025 as online shopping supplants brick and mortar retail. The transition from shipping palettes of goods to physical stores to packaging and shipping individual items has been a doozy. Sustainable packaging is gaining support, though.

For example, the Reddit thread “egregious packaging” is dedicated to roasting companies who whose packaging is excessive at a minimum.

Sustainable packaging is any practice that reduces the volume of materials used to deliver products, including:

  • Shipping boxes
  • Packing supplies
  • Product cushioning

Presently, no one has a clear plan for how to reduce the reliance on plastics and cardboard in eCommerce. It’s up to brands to experiment with how they and customers can collaborate to reduce delivery waste.

For ideas, let’s consider a recent survey that asked shoppers to rank the eCommerce sustainability initiatives they would support most.

These are promising figures, so maybe share a similar survey with your customers. Ask how they would feel about returning reusable packing, waiting longer for eco-friendly deliveries, and paying a bit more for sustainable packaging. If your brand has garnered an eco-conscious audience, you might be surprised at the response.

As returns rates climb, waste from packaging has increased. Suggesting that customers practice green packaging can help. You can check out Happy Returns, a company that lets shoppers return items without packaging to minimize their environmental impact.

A more conventional approach is to use recycled boxes, mailers, and envelopes, available from USPS, UPS, and FedEx. If you need custom or non-standard box sizes, consider the following retailers for economical sustainable packaging:

  • Uline
  • EcoBox
  • Treecyle
  • Globe Guard

Also, be sure you’re using the smallest possible size of shipping box to avoid wasted cardboard. Even the smallest efforts, when scaled, can make big impacts in your sustainable supply chain.

Related Post: Tips for Green Shipping

4. Source Your Products Consciously

If Nike’s child labor scandal in the 90's revealed anything, it’s that buyers care about ethical sourcing and production – but only to a point, and only for a time.

This means it falls to companies to search out suppliers that don’t exploit workers and devastate the local environment. It can be a tall order, but pays dividends in customer esteem. As you pick suppliers, outline your expectations around sustainability factors including:

  • Labor conditions
  • Energy use
  • Carbon emissions
  • Water use and treatment
  • Waste disposal

Offending partners can be replaced with more humane, eco-friendly options.

Child Labor

Child labor is used to manufacture many of the goods we buy today, but it’s largely invisible to the untrained eye. Trapped in poverty in developing countries, children mine for raw materials in China, stitch clothes in India, and more.

Check out the US Department of Labor’s list of 76 countries that use child labor to create 148 types of goods. If your products originate in a suspect region, you can do your due diligence on suppliers, and maybe opt for products made elsewhere.

Your Goals for a Sustainable Supply Chain

A sustainable supply chain is no simple feat, or everyone would do it. You’ll have to vet partners, map how your products circle the globe, and audit your energy use throughout. Maybe you switch how you transport goods. Maybe you use less packaging. Or do something entirely new and inspiring.

If you’re serious about the search, Easyship would be happy to connect you to our network of trusted green fulfillment centers at no charge.

You can also create a free Easyship account. No minimum orders, no commitments. Enjoy 50 free shipments each and every month, including access to our discounted shipping rates.