After a rollercoaster 2020, the holiday season is now upon us! While for many, this is the beginning of fun and festivities, this time of year can be really demanding for e-commerce retailers.
There are a lot of pressures that come with running an online business during this time of year—from high volumes of stock being shifted to heightened customer expectations, like demands for fast shipping.
But just because this is a busy period doesn’t mean you have to neglect sustainability.
There are plenty of ways to refine your processes, implement more sustainable practices, and reduce your impact as a business on the environment, while also making the most of your holiday sales. Here are five ways you can make this festive time of year a little bit greener.
1. Source sustainable holiday packaging and swap out as many materials as possible for greener options
Due to all of the gift-giving during this time of year, packaging waste piles up quickly. Between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, the amount of trash produced in the United States increases by an estimated 25%, which equates to one million extra tons of garbage each week.
E-commerce packaging plays a big part in this holiday waste. Annually, Americans throw away an estimated $11 billion worth of packaging materials and 38,000 miles of ribbon—long enough to wrap around the entire planet.
You can avoid adding to this waste and lead by example by switching out your packaging to a renewable, recyclable, or compostable option.
Take the poly (plastic) mailer bags that are widely used for online shopping. They only last for a single use before taking hundreds of years to decompose in a landfill, leaching out harmful chemicals in the process.
Compostable mailer bags are a great alternative as they’re made of corn-based biopolymers and can be added to a compost heap once the package has served its purpose. Noissue’s compostable mailers break down within six months (180 days), meaning they’ll be gone by the time the next holiday season rolls around.
There’s no need to stop at mailer bags, either. Custom-designed, eco-friendly cards can help your brand share the holiday cheer through a festive illustration or message. And water-activated tape is a great alternative to ribbon and sellotape to provide a beautiful finishing touch to presents.
The more materials you swap out for sustainable ones, the better!
2. Incentivize your customers to make better choices and offer carbon offsetting at the checkout
The increase in one-day and same-day shipping and delivery has made more people comfortable with leaving their holiday shopping until the last minute, but the speed of fast shipping takes its toll on the environment.
As a retailer, you’re in a position to incentivize your customers to make more sustainable choices by putting alternative choices in front of them. One easy way to do this is by offering “carbon offsetting” at the checkout to help balance the impact of their purchases.
Third-party software applications like Carbon Checkout plug into e-commerce websites like Shopify and encourage shoppers to offset their carbon footprint.
You may also want to consider partnering with an environmental or social program that aligns with your values to make a donation or plant a tree with every purchase a consumer makes. Actions like these show that your brand is socially conscious while also helping customers become more aware of the impact they have on the world. Plus, it reflects favorably on your brand that you’re willing to go the extra mile to affect real change.
3. Downsize your packaging and reduce any unnecessary layers
Over-packaging is a big problem in e-commerce. So at this busy time of the year, it’s a good idea to make sure your items are as small and efficiently packaged as possible.
Start by having a look at how many layers of packaging go into each of your shipments— what materials they’re made out of and where they end up. If just one of those layers can be switched to a reusable, recyclable, or compostable material, that’s a great first step in decreasing waste.
Assess if there’s any unnecessary layers you can eliminate such as plastic, cellophane or larger-than-necessary boxes. This will help to reduce your emissions and carbon footprint by ensuring shipments take up as little space as possible during transport.
Using properly sized packaging can even save you on shipping costs by avoiding dimensional weight charges. Read more about that here.
Creating a more sustainable packaging experience also involves analyzing what layers are necessary to protect items, as many materials like bubble wrap can’t be recycled.
If you do need to wrap, line or cushion a product, there’s always the option of using starch packing peanuts or an eco-friendly tissue paper (which you can encourage customers to keep in use as a reusable wrapping paper for presents they’re gifting, too)!
4. Check in with the waste in your office and supply chain
Creating a more sustainable customer experience isn’t just about what’s happening externally with order fulfillment and shipping. It’s also about how your business operates internally and being transparent with your customers about your processes.
This includes everything from how much single-use plastic your business churns through in production to the waste your staff are throwing out each day.
Consider doing a bin audit this holiday season and create an inventory of every single-use and disposable item your business is using, such as plastic knives and forks, takeaway coffee cups, and even the plastic wrapping and packaging that’s part of your supply chain.
Once you’ve assessed this, you can start making some changes, big or small. You could keep a library of reusable coffee cups and cotton reusable shopping bags in the office to encourage staff to be more eco-conscious, or have reusable utensils available for lunches, like cutlery and plates.
There’s no need to overthink it—just start taking notice of the smaller details around the workplace, pick one thing that you choose to refuse, and switch it out with a greener alternative.
A study by Cone Communications found 87% of consumers would buy from a brand that advocated for an issue they cared about, and the environment is a priority high on the list. If you are open about your efforts to improve your sustainable practices, your customers will respect your brand all the more for it.
5. Link up with other business partners who share your sustainable values
As the saying goes, there’s power in numbers. While you can make a difference on your own by adopting more sustainable practices these holidays, you can have a greater impact if you find like-minded businesses and work as a collective.
There are many shipping, packaging, and fulfillment companies out there striving to make the world a better place. Seek out those who share your values and show your customers you’re doing your homework by consciously thinking about each aspect of your supply chain.
It’s also helpful to connect with other companies who are on a sustainability journey similar to yours. By partnering with other local or international businesses who are advocating for change, you can gain insights into what they’re doing when it comes to sustainability practices and policies. Join forces to lobby industry bodies or local governments and see where you can support one another and offer resources.
Working together is the most effective way to create system-wide sustainable change, so don’t think you have to go at it alone!
We hope that gave you some tips and tricks to take away for the holidays.
Whether you’re just beginning your sustainability journey, or just looking for new ideas, every change big or small can have an impact. There’s also always room for improvement, particularly when it comes to the busiest time of year. Your customers will appreciate your efforts to make their experience these holidays a guilt-free one. Happy holidays!
Elly Strang is digital editor at noissue. Want to find sustainable options for your packaging? noissue lets you design your own branded eco-friendly tissue paper, stickers, tape and more. Simply upload your design, logo, or illustration, and we’ll do the rest. Learn more about our packaging options here.