“Can e-commerce and sustainability co-exist?” asks UPS retail sector president Greg Brown in a Chain Store Age article.
Online sales in the US are expected to reach $523 billion by 2020, up 56 percent from $335 billion in 2015, according to Forrester Research. This represents an average annual growth rate of 9.32 percent.
Online shopping can come at an increased cost to the environment — but this doesn’t have to be the case, Brown writes:
E-commerce brings with it new considerations on everything from packaging and fulfillment to returns, as well as new possibilities to create and implement innovative and sustainable solutions. Businesses are partnering with forward-thinking logistics providers to reduce impact and improve operating efficiencies.
Brown points to UPS customer services including My Choice and Access Point, which allow residential customers to modify their delivery times and locations, thus helping shoppers avoid missed deliveries and greenhouse gas emissions associated with wasted trips from multiple delivery attempts.
Retailers should also consider packaging, Brown says. Properly packaged goods reduce the number of returns — and this leads to financial and environmental savings — while sustainable packaging can also reduce waste and give retailers a competitive advantage.
Just last week Unilever committed to making 100 percent of its plastic packaging will be fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025. Dell, meanwhile, uses “carbon negative” packaging. The company’s earlier sustainable packaging, which includes bamboo and wheat straw, helped Dell eliminate 20 million pounds of packaging and saved $18 million dollars.
Brown also provides four tips for retailers to make e-commerce more sustainable:
- Optimize supply chains.
- Tap the power of data.
- Fuel collaboration.
- Measure, manage, mitigate and market.
He says companies willing to invest in these and other environmental management efforts “will see a return on their investment beyond operational efficiencies.”