Brand Sustainability: 5 Ways to Make Your eCommerce Brand More Sustainable

a computer screen displaying a sustainable product page

Brand sustainability should be one of the top priorities of your overall business strategy. Consumers’ rising concerns about climate change and their commitment to combating environmental issues are driving brands to adopt sustainable business practices.

More consumers than ever are actively buying from companies that design or source eco-friendly products. In fact, 44% of customers chose to purchase from brands that showed a clear commitment to sustainability.

The UN defines sustainability as “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In business terms, think of corporate sustainability as using resources and delivering products and services in an environmentally ethical way that also supports economic growth.

In this article, we’ll cover five ways your brand can go green. But first, let’s discuss one eco pitfall to avoid.

The Greenwashing issue

We’ve all encountered greenwashing at some point (it may have even influenced your decision-making). Greenwashing is when a company makes its products or activities appear more sustainable than they actually are. It’s usually employed through a company’s marketing and advertising channels, where it’s easy to exaggerate or covertly lie.

Take, for example, McDonald’s straw debacle in 2019: As part of their new green initiative, the company switched from plastic to “100% recyclable,” eco-friendly paper straws — except the new straws weren’t recyclable at all. To add insult to injury, after tallying up all that non-recyclable waste, the company would have been better off keeping the plastic straws, which were recyclable and thus would have caused less environmental damage.

This is an extreme case, but it’s a powerful warning about environmental practices and transparency. Brands that want to call attention to the sustainable changes they’re adopting should comprehend explicitly what those changes are and the impact they have.

Something as seemingly inconsequential as not knowing the difference between recyclable and biodegradable materials could result in your team unknowingly using inaccurate language in a promotional video or on your website’s landing page.

Understanding your environmental actions is equally, if not more important than avoiding their over exaggeration.

High profile brands like Coca-Cola and H&M may easily recover from misleading advertising, but most start-ups or small businesses would feel a significant (negative) impact from such a reputation blow.

The main takeaway from this? Be transparent. Market your brand ethically, and maintain accurate messaging across your marketing, communications, and PR channels.

Transparency will help enhance your sustainability efforts and reveal where you can improve. Below, we dive into some eco-friendly solutions for your business.

5 Steps for a more sustainable brand

1) Reduce waste

As eCommerce continues to grow, one of the greatest pressures retailers face is to lessen the environmental impact from manufacturing.

You can do this by replacing plastic wrapping in your boxes with paper instead, reducing your packaging by prepping your items more efficiently so less filler is needed, redesigning your product for a longer life cycle by investing in higher quality materials, or through other creative avenues.

Although it may be an investment at first, reducing company waste helps the environment and your reputation.

One way to identify unnecessary refuse is by conducting a waste audit. Review all the materials you use and ask yourself: At which stage do we use an excessive amount? What’s being thrown away?

Here are some ways to cut down your excess:

  • Invest in recyclable packaging throughout production
  • Reduce plastic where possible
  • Switch from paper invoicing to emails and encourage customers to opt for electronic receipts by offering discount rewards
  • Evaluate shipping methods and find alternatives when possible
  • Design with sustainability in mind — ask yourself if there are ways to increase your product life cycle

Tip: Invest in more efficient packaging, and less wasted space with a reliable prep service. Smaller, more compact boxes mean less in shipping fees and more secure products.

2) Increase your energy efficiency

Energy use is another area that would benefit from an audit. Increasing your energy efficiency can even go so far as improving your bottom line. A school in Arkansas turned solar savings into better teacher pay, and a Marriott hotel was able to save $49,000 annually with energy efficient tech.

If you have an office space, request an energy audit from your electricity provider. It’s a low-cost way to see where you’re using the most energy and hear about cost-saving and efficient alternatives.

You’d be surprised at the simple, but effective changes you can make, like switching to low-energy lighting or solar power, maintaining a consistent room temperature, or even unplugging appliances that aren’t in use or fully charged. These small changes can have long-term savings on your company’s energy costs as well as help the environment.

Another option is to switch from in-office to remote working. While many companies have had remote options in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing employee hybrid days or, if you can, going fully remote is a no-cost way to cut your company’s energy expenditure and office overhead while reducing carbon emissions from commuting.

3) Source local suppliers

As consumers, we’re frequently encouraged to “shop local,” but even eCommerce brands can benefit from sourcing local suppliers. In addition to contributing back to your local business community, nearby suppliers can be more reactive and flexible when it comes to requests.

They are also more familiar with other nearby options for your other needs (such as additional parts for your products, or packaging suppliers), reducing travel or import time for supplies.

For many brands, sourcing locally isn’t an option. In that case, we suggest selecting suppliers that have a green ethos aligned with your own, or that provide sustainable materials.

4) Contribute to an environmental initiative

Maybe adopting options 1—3 simply isn’t feasible for you at the moment. The costs to switch materials, planning logistics, or contracts with suppliers and manufacturers locking you in are all potentially limiting factors.

However, if you still want to send a message that you’re headed in the direction toward environmental change and supporting green initiatives, consider compensating for what you can’t avoid right now.

Collaborate with environmental initiatives in your area, like a local beach cleanup for instance. Or, donate to reputable environmental organizations to offset your shipping costs.

Internal changes may take longer to implement, and that’s okay if it’s something you’re working on while taking other environmental actions.

5) Implement a sustainability policy

A show of commitment to making your brand more sustainable is implementing a sustainability policy. This solidifies your stance and serves as a green road map for your company.

In your policy, you develop a sustainability mission aligned with your brand mission, determine key outputs, and set a phased timeline for adopting certain practices.

By putting a sustainability policy into place and disseminating it throughout your business (both internally and externally), you’ll involve your employees in the changes and send a clear message about your priorities shift to your customers.

Wrapping up — Every bit helps when it comes to brand sustainability

It might not be possible to implement everything we covered here. But if you can adopt one or two from the list, then you’re off to a good start. Small changes can make a significant difference, and as long as your brand remains transparent about the steps it’s taking (or avoiding), consumers will feel comfortable supporting your company and may even champion you for it.

The movement toward sustainable business practices will continue to gain momentum in the next few years as environmental concerns increase. Even if you’re not ready to make immediate changes, start asking what would be feasible for your brand and plan a kick-off date to get started. Committing to at least one goal is the first step toward a greener business.