Understanding sustainability and e-commerce websites

UK consumers have become more conscious of sustainability in the last 12 months across their lifestyle and when purchasing products, a report on sustainability attitudes recently published by Deloitte suggests that, while this often centres around more obvious solutions such as packaging and recycling for consumers, attitudes of a third (34%) of consumers stated that their trust in brands would be improved if they were recognised as an ethical/sustainable provider by an independent third party. The e-commerce industry has many seemingly hidden areas where sustainability efforts can be made to create a more environmentally supportive business.

What does this mean for the e-commerce industry?

There is a real misconception that moving physical shops to being purely online would lead to a lower environmental impact. However, as more consumers become increasingly interested in sustainable solutions, the e-commerce industry will need to make strides to address potentially damaging factors within the operating practices. Indeed a multi channel approach to retail is really important. A blog published by IMRG says that Retailers must realise that customers are channel-agnostic. They could use anywhere up to 12 channels and devices to shop. Some may prefer to research a product online and buy from a physical store; others may order online and pick it up from the store. The prudent option for retailers would be to take a multi-channel approach.

Ways that e-commerce businesses can embrace sustainability in 2024

One of the ways that an e-commerce business can embrace sustainability is in its choice of technology partner. When choosing an e-commerce provider with ethical and sustainable credentials, it’s important to be asking the following questions.

  1. How green is the hosting and the ‘system’ overall?

Running an e-commerce platform absorbs vast quantities of energy. Ask the question, How green is your hosting and the systems that you use? What measures are you taking to minimise the impact of your hosting solution on the environment?

There is a balancing act here. Robust hosting is critical for an e-commerce business. A slow or unavailable online store equates to a very real loss of revenue for every minute users can not purchase products. This is why at Webselect we chose Microsoft Azure as our hosting partner, Azure provides the essential reliability that we require but with a strong commitment to sustainability.

Microsoft has stated that they are committed to becoming carbon negative, water positive, zero waste, and to protect more land than they use by 2030. Specifically on the topic of carbon, Microsoft Scope 1 and 2 emissions decreased by 6% from the 2020 base year. This result is driven by their ongoing work to advance clean energy procurement and green tariff programs.

You can read more about Microsoft’s commitments to sustainability here: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-gb/explore/global-infrastructure/sustainability

As well as Microsoft’s commitment to providing greener hosting, they also make available tools to our team that allow us to monitor and measure our carbon usage across our services for our clients. This allows us to implement new strategies for optimising our software and monitor the impact on those changes. This blog will be updated with an overview of our current consumption in July.

2. Has the website design been optimised?

Optimising website design to minimise data usage and loading times can reduce energy consumption. By using efficient coding practices, optimising images, and reducing unnecessary scripts websites can load using less energy than poorly considered websites.

At the most extreme a ‘black’ website is better - as it's using less pixel energy from the end users device - it's minor but scaled up across billions of websites it could have a positive impact. however this has to be balanced with UX and brand experience.

3. Does your platform facilitate lean and energy-efficient operations

Ensuring that your e-commerce platform and backend set up are lean and energy-efficient involves a detailed audit and analysis of systems and processes that run your e-commerce business and asking where efficiency can be improved. The team at Webselect did just this for HS Walsh when migrating the e-commerce platform from Drupal to SelectCommerce.. Read about the improvements that were made here: https://www.webselect.net/our-work/hs-walsh.

4. Is your data storage optimised?

Are you storing unnecessary data? Good data management is not only a requirement under GDPR. If you are hanging on to historical data just in case it comes in useful someday you are expending energy on data storage that is unnecessary. Is it really useful to be holding data for people who have disengaged with your brand years ago? Are you storing multiple records for the same person? Consider a thorough audit and data cleanse to ensure your databases are optimised and also compliant with Data Protection laws. Also consider where your data is stored, are there CRM options that themselves use green storage solutions.

Share your sustainability story and goals

Knowing what you need to do, what your intentions are and learning how you are going to make changes for the planet is a great way of including your customers into your vision. Let them be part of your business's accountability.

However, you need to act on your intentions. Saying you will do something and then not is greenwashing, and that takes your story from being credible to a reputation killer.

Sustainability is no longer a nice to have option for e-commerce businesses – it is becoming a key factor for consumers when deciding who they shop with and what they buy.

Often classed as a more expensive option for many of the points raised above, the long-term benefits will be increased brand sentiment, improved customer experience and knowing that your business is putting the environment high on your company agenda.