Why Sustainability Matters for E-commerce Websites: Building a Greener Future

The awareness around sustainability and business practices is becoming an increasingly important issue across industries, and e-commerce is no exception. As businesses recognise their roles in environmental impact, there's a growing need for e-commerce websites to embrace sustainability practices.

From reducing carbon footprints to meeting consumer demands, businesses need to better understand why embracing a more environmentally aware approach is good for both the planet and your customers.

There isn’t a one size fits all, and every business and online retailer will have different challenges that they face when they start to pivot to embracing a greener approach to their operations. However, we have grouped 5 main areas where you can start on your sustainability journey.

Addressing Climate Change

Climate change isn’t just a buzzword any more – it is one of the biggest challenges we face, and businesses play a significant role in mitigating its effects. E-commerce websites contribute to carbon emissions through various channels, including transportation, packaging, and energy consumption, many of which are not immediately obvious.

By adopting sustainable practices such as using renewable energy to power computers, servers and businesses, optimising logistics, using sustainable materials and reducing waste, e-commerce businesses can minimise their carbon footprint and contribute to mitigating climate change.

Meeting Consumer Expectations

Consumers are the most environmentally aware than they have ever been before, and they often expect the businesses they support to share their values.

Studies show that a growing number of consumers prefer to purchase from brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability, and have long term, carbon neutral goals. By integrating sustainability into your operations and communications, e-commerce websites and businesses can attract environmentally conscious consumers, build brand loyalty, and deliver higher customer satisfaction.

Reducing Environmental Impact

The increased reliance of buying online has led to an increase in packaging waste, energy consumption, and carbon emissions associated with transportation. Sustainable e-commerce practices, such as using eco-friendly packaging materials, optimising delivery routes, and promoting responsible consumption, can help reduce the environmental impact of online shopping. By minimising waste and conserving resources, e-commerce websites play their part. It can be easier to say than to do, but thinking through the whole process and the other services that you use in your supply chain matters. In carbon terms this is often described as scope 3 emissions. There are many tools and methodologies out there that can help you understand this such as B Labs / B corporation and the Carbon Trust.

Enhancing Brand Reputation Clearly and Truthfully

Building a sustainable brand can have a positive impact on reputation and brand image. Consumers are more likely to trust and support businesses that prioritise environmental sustainability, especially younger audiences who are more in touch with the growing need to be more climate conscious.

By demonstrating a commitment to sustainability through transparent practices, certifications, and initiatives, e-commerce websites can enhance their brand reputation, attract socially conscious customers, and foster long-term relationships with stakeholders. However, avoid ‘green washing’ this is the practice of saying the right things but not behaving and putting into practice the right things. This can have significant negative effects and can be spotted by consumers, regulators and governments who can intervene.

Take a recent case published at Gov.uk where the CMA in July 2022 examined concerns about the way some firms’ products are being marketed to customers as eco-friendly.

The investigation scrutinised environmental claims made by ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda about their fashion products, including clothing, footwear, and accessories. Several issues were examined, including whether:

  • The statements and language used by the businesses are too broad and vague, and may create the impression that clothing collections are more environmentally sustainable than they actually are
  • The criteria used by some of these businesses to decide which products to include in these collections may be lower than customers might reasonably expect from their descriptions and overall presentation.

The outcome, released March 2024, has led to ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda have signed formal agreements to use only accurate and clear green claims. The undertakings secured by the CMA commit ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda to change the way they display, describe, and promote their green credentials, meaning millions of customers can expect to see clear and accurate green claims.

The cost, embarrassment and brand harm as a result of over claiming green credentials will have been measurable.

Driving Innovation and Efficiency

Embracing sustainability can drive innovation and efficiency within e-commerce businesses. Sustainable practices encourage businesses to rethink traditional processes and find innovative solutions to reduce environmental impact whilst remaining commercially viable. This can vary from business to business and can range from merchandise solutions to marketing technology.

Sustainability is not a buzzword—it's a business imperative. As more businesses embrace becoming B Corporations, e-commerce websites have a unique opportunity to lead the way in building a greener future by embracing sustainable practices. By addressing climate change, meeting consumer expectations, reducing environmental impact, enhancing brand reputation, and driving innovation, e-commerce businesses can be part of the solution in creating a more sustainable future.

Why Sustainability Matters for E-Commerce Websites