Sustainability in e-Commerce

In recent years, sustainability has become a buzzing topic in the realm of e-commerce, capturing the attention of businesses and consumers alike. But what exactly is sustainability, and why does it matter in the context of online shopping?

At its core, sustainability refers to practices that meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. When applied to e-commerce, it encompasses a range of environmentally and socially conscious actions taken by businesses and consumers to minimize the negative impact of online shopping on the planet.  The UN has set 17 Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) to address those environmental and social urgencies.  This multi-part series will focus on how environmental SDGs are shaping the world of e-commerce.

What do consumers want? 

Over the past decade, there’s been an incredible shift of consumer sentiment in favour of sustainable action for the planet and businesses need to address this.  Today, over 78% of US shoppers say that a sustainable lifestyle is important to themSo, the big question is Why does sustainability increasingly matter to consumers over time?  Taking things into perspective, there are 3 key elements that drive this increasing sentiment: 

  • First, we have more information available at hand. Academia and research are publishing more facts.  Those facts are more readily available to the general public, thanks both to social media and traditional media
  • Again, through social media and traditional media, we’re doing a better job at educating people about world preservation
  • Given the extreme climate conditions that we’ve been experiencing, it is not unusual for consumers to realize how they are now directly impacted.  In many instances, several consumers have first-hand experience with such catastrophic events.

Consumers, armed with information and a growing consciousness of their purchasing power, are now beginning to factor sustainability as one of the driving forces in their decision making. However, despite their good intentions, many consumers still undervalue eco-friendly products due to various outweighing factors such as price perception or lack of awareness.

Conversely, businesses are increasingly driven to integrate sustainability into their e-commerce operations, realizing the benefits of aligning their practices with consumer expectations and societal values. This corporate focus on sustainability is not a recent development – in fact, it’s been a topic of discussion since the 1970s. However, only in recent years has it gained widespread recognition and implementation.

Companies with an e-commerce operation have a unique opportunity to educate and engage consumers through their online platforms. By incorporating sustainability messaging and information on their websites, businesses can raise awareness and empower consumers to make more informed choices.

Here are a few examples we love: 

Lego  has committed to using sustainable materials in its products and packaging. They educate consumers, especially children, about the importance of sustainable play and responsible plastic use.

Etsy,  the online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods, promotes sustainability by encouraging sellers to use eco-friendly materials and practices. They also educate consumers about supporting artisans and sustainable shopping.

Eileen Fisher is a fashion brand that emphasizes sustainable fashion practices. They educate consumers about ethical clothing production, recycling programs, and sustainable fabric choices.

Up until now, it’s been a steady growth of consumers who would simply empathize with changing climate conditions.  For example, they would notice the immediate effects, say through certain shortages in specific products at the market;  And they started to inquire “why?”

What we’re now seeing is an actual shift from growing consumer empathy, to governments catalyzing consumer sustainable action, much in the same way that they’ve done so for industry.  Many countries are beginning to see a shift in legislation which attempts to push consumers towards more sustainable behavior.  Examples of this gradual shift from purely voluntary action to mandatory action include:

  • Increased taxes on fossil fuels vs subsidies for green energy
  • Carbon offsetting taxes (most notably in travel and tourism industry )
  • Government handling of rubbish and recyclables 

So how do we measure the impact of sustainable action on the environment, and how does it impact your business’ bottom line?  What is your business doing to embrace the shift in sustainability-driven consumer spending?  Stay tuned – we’ll address these points in the upcoming Sustainability and e-Commerce articles of this multi-part series.