How eCommerce Is Helping The Environmental Cause
By Victoria Greene
eCommerce exploded onto the scene in the early Nineties, and has only grown from strength to strength since then. From stationery and suitcases to guitars and groceries, there’s a wealth of goods and services available at our fingertips.
With that kind of growth, you might be concerned with the kind of impact it is having on the environment. Indeed, 55% of global consumers have stated that they would pay more for goods and services that are from brands with positive social and environmental commitments. In fact, eCommerce has provided the environmental cause with a surprising number of benefits.
Save fuel… and the planet
Before the advent of eCommerce as we know it today, we would have had to drive to our nearest store or mall to buy the things we needed. That means burning fuel, which in turn releases greenhouse gases that harm the environment. When you consider all the people in your area driving to the store to do their weekly grocery shop, that’s a whole lot of gas.
However, eCommerce has allowed us to order what we need from the comfort of our own home — and get it delivered there too. I know what you’re thinking: doesn’t it still require fuel to be delivered? Well, yes. However, there’s a new player in the delivery world that’s about to change all that… drones.
A number of big names including Amazon and DHL are currently trailing the technology and, if successful, we could expect to see drones filling our skies by 2020. These remote-controlled robots release less emissions than their larger road-based counterparts. In fact, truck delivery of a parcel results in approximately 1 kg of greenhouse gas emissions on average. This is compared to drone delivery of a small parcel, which would result in only 0.42 kg of emissions.
Switch to paperless and save the trees
Think about all the paper you get when you buy something at a brick-and-mortar store: receipts, bills, promotional material, coupons, and so on. Not only does the way they are produced harm the environment – felling huge numbers of trees for the paper, chemical waste from the ink – but you end up throwing most of it away when you get home.
eCommerce negates the need for all that. Rather than creating huge reams of paper that will just go to waste, online stores send all bills and receipts straight to your email inbox. And the added bonus of using email is that you get to decide what goes to your junk mail and what doesn’t!
The rise of online thrift shops
In the past, when someone got bored of something they bought, or no longer had any use for it, they might get rid of it at a garage sale or in a newspaper classified. However, the number of people who might potentially have a need for that item would be limited by your location. If you’re getting rid of your old scuba gear at a yard sale, it’s not guaranteed that there’ll be a diving enthusiast who happens to be walking by! So, if we couldn’t find a buyer, we might just throw out our old or unused goods.
In contrast, eCommerce lets sellers connect with potential customers from all over the world, quickly, easily, and with very little effort. Online auction sites like eBay let you sell anything and everything under the sun to a staggeringly huge audience, at least some of whom will be guaranteed to be interested in what you’re selling. An old guitar? Your collection of Spanish stamps? A potato chip shaped like Richard Nixon? Whatever you’re selling, you’re virtually guaranteed a buyer online.
Turning hobbies into online businesses
With the rise of a variety of free online store builders, starting your own online store has never been easier. This has given individuals from around the world the chance to market their homemade wares on a global stage.
This has resulted in a number of online stores sprouting up selling a variety of products made from repurposed or recycled materials. From cork yoga mats to accessories made of old firehouse, there’s a growing number of hobbyists turning their quirky interests into a viable online enterprise, repurposing what would otherwise have gone to waste.
Less brick and mortar stores means less waste
A brick-and-mortar store requires a significant number of resources, from overheads like water and electricity to physical space, and as such they create a lot of waste too. With more and more businesses switching either partially or entirely to eCommerce, a physical store is no longer necessary. Businesses can be effectively run out of their own homes, and the use of drop shipping minimizes the need for a warehouse.
More emphasis on recyclable packaging
One particular environmental trend that eCommerce has championed is recycling.
As I said earlier, having little or no physical presence means that businesses reduce the risk of generating a lot of waste. However, as eCommerce grows it is held under close scrutiny by customers and the media, and so any waste that eCommerce businesses do create has to be as sustainable as possible.
As such, online brands are scrambling to ensure theirs make the cut. Online retail giant Amazon for example are taking steps to right-size their packaging, and computer technology company Dell have implemented sustainable bamboo cushioning and wheat straw elements to theirs. With big names like these making such significant and public environmental commitments, we can expect more and more brands to follow suit.
eCommerce has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the Nineties. Today, the online marketplace has been blown wide open, with a diverse mix of businesses selling almost anything. With eCommerce’s growth comes fears that it might harm our environment. However, it actually opens up a number of new and exciting ways that we can head towards a brighter, more eco-friendly future.
Victoria Greene is an eCommerce brand marketing consultant and freelance writer from Chicago with a voracious passion for everything digital.