Guide to Greening Your Ecommerce: Developing a Sustainable Business Model

A comprehensive, step by step guide to greening your business, developing sustainable business practices, and  making your company a force for environmental change

Perhaps you already employ an e-commerce sustainable business model, follow sustainable business practices, and are already one of the most environmentally conscious businesses around. Or maybe you are just wading into the waters of sustainability, and are not quite sure how to get started. You may have even scored some ecological wins in the past year or two, and are now trying to make the environment core to how your ecommerce business operates.

Regardless of where you are in the green business journey, we hope you find this guide to greening your business valuable. Our sustainable business model is broken up into twelve sections. Each section highlights ideas for you to green a specific aspect of your business. By the time you finish, you’ll be well on your way to greening your ecommerce and making the world a better place.

While we’ve done our best to include as many sustainable business practices we can, entire sustainability books and courses could be written on each section of this guide! The suggestions in them are not meant to be exhaustive. Instead, our hope is that this piece can inspire you with new ideas, give you a framework for how to think about eco opportunities in your business, and/or provide a structured, sustainable business model that you can bring to your company’s leadership team.

Greening Your Ecommerce Business: Table of Contents 

  1. Setting Goals and Measurement Systems
  2. Designing Your Products and Sourcing Raw Materials
  3. Sustainable Manufacturing
  4. Warehousing and Fulfillment
  5. Product and Shipping Packaging
  6. Designing for End of Life
  7. Inventory Management
  8. Transportation and Shipping
  9. Managing Returns
  10. Office Operations and Work Environment
  11. Corporate Activism and Engagement
  12. Marketing Your Eco Efforts

Section 1: Setting goals and measurement systems

Sustainability, especially in the context of e-commerce, is a complex topic that can often lead to decision paralysis. Topics that might seem simple (paper versus plastic comes to mind) are like onions - new considerations and questions emerge with each layer.

Because of this, it can be really helpful to have a North Star of some sort - an eco goal or declaration that helps you focus and motivate your sustainability efforts. This guiding principle will inform the development of your entire sustainable business model.

This blog post outlines seven tips to help you set ambitious and inspiring sustainability goals.

The most important two steps are:

  • Use a lifecycle analysis approach to identify the biggest or most concerning environmental impacts your company has. When doing so, consider a broad framework - such as the Nine Planetary Boundaries, which highlights issues that get less airtime than climate change and plastic pollution, such as chemical runoff, fresh water supply, and biodiversity loss. 

  • Once you understand which environmental issue(s) your business should be most vigilant of and committed to changing, set inspiring and meaningful goals to reverse your impact. Establish a clear time horizon by which your goal(s) will be met. 

While it would be tempting to be hyper-analytical in executing the above two steps, I don’t think this exercise needs to be extremely precise and there aren’t necessarily right answers. This type of approach is largely to help ensure your sustainability “North Star” is well aligned with your overall business.

Here are some initial examples of sustainability goals to help you get started:

  • Cut your emissions per product sold in half in five years

  • Source only recycled, reclaimed or organically grown materials in five years

  • Divert 95% of your waste from the landfill through source reduction and by recycling and composting

  • Remove 500,000 pounds of litter in five years (this type of goal works well if you source reclaimed materials or do cleanups as part of your operation)

  • Donate $100,000 to environmental causes in three years (this type of goal works well if you have a donation model baked into your business)

  • Eliminate all use of virgin plastic from your operation in three years

  • Reduce the fresh water consumed throughout your entire supply chain by 90% in three years

You may end up with multiple sustainability goals, but we recommend that they are prioritized, or at least that one is the most important for your business to help you make decisions.

Once environmental goals are in place, the next step is to figure out how to measure your impact against these goals. 

Measurement is one of the most difficult aspects of sustainability. 

One of the trickiest parts of developing an e-commerce’ sustainable business model is accurately measuring your business’ environmental impact. For certain metrics and goals, such as landfill diversion, recycled content or plastic reduction, measurement is simpler. Let’s say you’ve set a goal to go plastic-free within your operation. Setting up a system to identify and weigh plastic used in your business is pretty straightforward. If you have set a goal of 100% landfill diversion by 2025, as your waste management company if they can provide weights of your recycling, composting and landfill waste monthly. If not, set up a system to take these measurements yourself.

Other measurements are trickier, especially measuring greenhouse carbon emissions or water usage, as so much of your company’s impact happens upstream in your supply chain. However, there are tools and guidance that can help you, and, depending on your budget, consulting companies that can get uber-detailed and granular for you. Here are some examples:

Section 2: Designing Your Products and Sourcing Raw Materials

For an ecommerce company, your product set is likely the foundation of your business. Greening your product is good for the planet (sometimes dramatically so, because a company’s product is often its number one environmental culprit). But it can also often be the best place to start your sustainability efforts, both because of how quickly this starts to shift company culture towards environmental progress AND because you can start to see a branding and marketing return on investment right away. Switch from standard cotton to organic cotton, or from a polyester blend to a fabric made of recycled plastic bottles, and your customers will notice and respond immediately. 

Here are some initial steps to make your product greener. Some may be applicable to your business, others may not. Some may require major changes to your actual product, and may either not be feasible at all or may take time and resources to implement.  

  • Improve the durability: This is most relevant for durable goods (toys, clothing, furniture, jewelry) as opposed to consumables. Put your goods through actual use tests. Have kids go wild with the toys you make, wear your clothes or accessories for a few days straight, put a few of your shirts in the laundry multiple times and see how they fair. These steps will uncover how your goods might break or become unusable in the normal course of their lives, and help you identify ways to strengthen your products. Pay close attention to the components of your goods that are often neglected or untested - zippers, clasps, adhesives.

  • Improve the “repairability” of your product: Even very well made products break! Make it as easy as possible for your customers to repair things on their own. Use screws that are readily available in any home goods store. Allow customers to order replacement parts on your site. Have repair tutorials on your site. 

  • Eliminate unnecessary stuff in your product: This is relevant for all products - consumables and durable goods. Review your design or product formulation and ask yourself the function of each component. If you come to one that doesn’t serve an obvious functional or aesthetic purpose, consider eliminating it. 

  • Minimize unnecessary fillers: If you produce and sell soaps, shampoos, detergents, etc, you are well aware of how many industries bulk up products with excess water and other fillers just to make them more appealing on the retail shelf. Ecommerce doesn’t have to worry about traditional retail appeal, so take fillers out! 

  • Find the right size to minimize packaging and waste: Again, traditional retail shelves are chock full of the same product that is sized in different packages. This helps them get more shelf space and appeal to different buyers (value conscious, price conscious, etc). Often, the largest sized products leads customers to waste while the smallest sized products use excessive packaging for the amount of product a customer receives. Find the right balance (and if you’re not sure, talk to your customers about how they use your goods and how to best package it).

  • Rethink your raw materials: This is a biggie! But it is a complicated one! There is no perfect sourcing strategy, as it varies based on what you are producing and how it needs to perform. You’ll need to develop your own point of view and framework for sustainable materials (here is ours, as an example), but here are some good concepts to start from. These are written in our own order of priority. For example, in our perspective, reclaimed or recycled content is preferred over virgin. But, if virgin material is critical, then seek out organically produced and/or certified raw materials. 

    • Recycled content, ideally with as much post consumer waste (and even as much ocean plastic!) as possible

    • Certified organic (or go leaps and bounds further to seek out regenerative, biodynamic raw materials grown in a permaculture setting). 

    • Seek out raw materials that can be naturally produced with minimal water and zero chemicals

    • Look for dyes and inks that are made with mostly renewable inputs and are as safe as possible for workers to handle

    • Where relevant, look for raw materials that are certified (by a respectable and known certifying body) to come from a responsible, ethical and/or sustainable supply chain

Many important elements of sustainable product design actually relate to its end of life options. Because end of life is a complex topic, we have dedicated a section to this topic alone. 

Section 3: Sustainable manufacturing

Whether you manufacture your own products or work with factories, the sustainability and ethics of product production is likely a major contributor of your company’s overall footprint. This section outlines eco-minded strategies a manufacturer can adopt.

If you produce your own goods, consider implementing some or all of these over time.

If you work with outside manufacturers, work with them to implement these strategies, or (if they are not able or willing) seek out new production partners.

If you work with multiple manufacturing partners, consider fielding a supplier questionnaire so you can get a baseline understanding of their practices, opportunities for improvement, and willingness to collaborate with you to make progress. We do not believe that a supplier survey should be used to cut off factories because of their practices, but instead as a starting point to work together towards improvements. If, however, a vendor isn’t willing to engage in this process, that is likely a flag to search for alternatives. 

Workplace / Labor Conditions 

For us, ethical labor practices go hand and hand with sustainable business values and as such, belong front and center in a guide to green your business. 

Are manufacturing workers paid fair and consistent wages, given reasonable and consistent hours, given appropriate time off and breaks, offered opportunities to progress in their income and career, given health insurance and other benefits needed to live a healthy life, able to work in a safe and comfortable environment, and generally treated with respect and dignity? 

These are just the starting questions to begin assessing how well an operation treats its most valuable resources - its people. 

Energy Usage, Sources and Recovery

What steps are being taken to assess and reduce energy usage? 

What steps are being taken to reuse heat generated through operations?

What steps are being taken to diversify energy sources to include renewable energy? Are renewable energy credits being purchased? 

These are good industry-agnostic starting questions, but each industry will have different drivers of energy usage and therefore, unique steps that can and should be taken for energy reduction.

Location

How close is manufacturing located to the rest of the supply chain (upstream and downstream from the manufacturing step)? Ideally, production takes place close to where the raw materials are produced and / or close to where goods will be warehoused and shipped. Here is a common supply chain: Raw ingredients are sourced from all of the world that are then produced into finished good with an Asian manufacturer who ships these goods to a warehouse in the Midwest of the USA from which orders are then sent out to customers across North America. This e-commerce sustainable business model requires excessive shipping (and time!) between each step in the supply chain. On the other hand, an example of a tighter and more efficient supply chain: sourcing inputs in North America, manufacturing them in a domestic factory close to primary raw materials, and warehousing them close to the manufacturer (or even in the manufacturer if possible!).

Water usage and recovery

What steps are being taken to measure and reduce the use of freshwater? What steps are being taken to reuse grey water if possible? How is wastewater being handled?

Chemicals, additives, inks

For many of us, things like inks, adhesives, cleaning agents, and additives which are used in a product’s production process are up to a manufacturer’s discretion (or, if manufacturing in house, are decisions made without extensive environmental review). But these things have a big impact on how manufacturing impacts workers and the environment. Assess what is being used, toxin and VOC levels of each agent, and what steps are being taken to minimize the negative impact of these things.  

Waste management

What steps are being taken to reduce source material, maximize recycling, compost whatever is possible, and minimize landfill bound waste? Are waste management and diversion numbers known? What steps are being taken to minimize hazardous waste and responsibly dispose of any such waste that is generated? 

Factory tours, audits and/or certifications

In some industries, certifications are a lifesaver.  For example, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is an excellent certification if you are looking for organic apparel or fabric. OEKO-TEX is a great certification to help ensure your textiles supply chain minimizes its use of harmful chemicals. Fair Trade Certified helps companies find suppliers with fair and ethical labor practices, and is largely relevant for food and beverages with an international supply chain.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of different certifications across various industries. Some are well known, well vetted and extremely consistent. Some are more questionable and it isn’t always clear how well the standards of these more questionable certifications have been established, and if there are excellent agencies out their certifying against the standards. 

As such, our take on certifications is as follows. 

Ask partners if they have certifications and if so, research those certifications to ensure they are legitimate and have high enough standards. If their certifications are strong and answer many of your questions, you may not need to audit them further. 

If partners do not have certifications, ask instead if they can provide documentation of their relevant practices (wages paid, benefits provided, employee testimonials, SDSs on their materials, waste management reports, etc). If possible, visit partners as part of your own personal audit. If a partner shows a commitment to ethics and sustainability through these steps, ask them if they would consider getting a specific certification you are looking for and connect them with resources to help them pursue this next step. 

Section 4: Warehousing and fulfillment

40% of ecommerce brands currently insource all of their warehousing and fulfillment, 12% exclusively outsource, and 48% do a combination of both. https://www.zentail.com/blog/outsourcing-ecommerce-order-fulfillment-is-the-new-fad-reports-dhl

Whichever of these describes your business, warehousing and fulfillment are important aspects of your environmental footprint. 

Like with the manufacturing section, review these eco ideas either to identify opportunities for your own operation or to help you identify questions to ask your third party logistics provider. If you outsource your warehousing and/or fulfillment services, see how your partner(s) respond to these questions and ideas. If they are a collaborative partner with you, excited to make some ecological improvements, great! If no, and they are dragging their heals in sharing information or making changes, consider looking for new service providers. 

Switch to electric forklifts

Electric forklifts can be better for the environment (if the sources of electricity are renewable) and are safer for employees because chemicals like battery acid, anti-freeze, or transaxle liquid are no longer at play. 

Manage lighting

For many companies, lighting is the primary driver of electricity. 

What steps are being taken to reduce the eco footprint of warehouse lighting? Look for CFL or LED lighting. Consider daylighting tubes, sometimes called solar tubes - sheet metal cylinders with polished interiors that reflect and channel the outside light into the interior, preserving its intensity. Make sure lights are turned off when no one is in a room. 

Many municipalities offer free sustainable lighting upgrades for businesses. 

Temperature maintenance

What steps are being taken to maintain comfortable temperatures for employees while minimizing energy usage. Simple steps include insulating and weather stripping doors and windows, thoughtful use of shades, managing garage door use, and properly routing equipment heat into or out of the building depending on the season. 

In winter months, consider lighting that emits heat. Consider high volume low speed (HVLS) fans that can move cool or warm air around the room, to keep workers comfortable while decreasing energy use. If possible, consider conducting a thermographic inspection, which uses infrared technology to identify uncontrolled heat transfers in doors, walls and roofing to identify improvements. 

A warehouse roof can help maintain temperatures as well. Light-colored reflective materials, or even white paint, reflects rather than absorbs sunlight, helping keep warehouses more comfortable in summer months.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of over cooling a facility in the winter and overheating it in the summer! Manage to comfortable but not extreme temperatures! 

Energy sources

What steps are being taken to diversify energy sources to utilize as much renewable energy as possible. This can include installing solar panels on a roof, installing wind energy onsite and/or purchasing renewable energy credits. 

Utilize sensors

Sensors can be used around a warehouse to monitor and manage lighting, gas, water, refrigeration units, machinery and more. 

Landscaping and water usage

Warehousing isn’t water intensive but that doesn’t mean facilities shouldn’t pay attention to their usage, especially related to landscaping. Choosing water efficient landscaping (or, going a step further and investing in landscaping that can help replenish soils and support native biodiversity!) can help. Adding stormwater drainage systems can help divert water from flowing into municipal stormwater systems and into prairies, holding ponds or other solutions instead. 

Section 5: Sustainable product and shipping packaging

Ecommerce businesses must think about eco-friendly e-commerce packaging for both the product and shipping.  Our recent blog post describes twelve steps to greening your ecommerce packaging. The most important tips are summarized here. 

  1. Choosing the right material for your packaging can be the trickiest step, as each material comes with pros and cons. Thin plastic often beats other materials when it comes to carbon emissions, but it has lower recycling rates (and causes major issues if it ends up as litter). Paper is incredible because it is readily renewable, easily and frequently recycled, and naturally biodegradable. But, it is relatively heavy (leading to higher carbon emissions than plastic) and is not waterproof. Glass is most easily reused, but it is a non renewable resource, extremely heavy and not easily recycled in all municipalities. Aluminum is infinitely and readily recyclable, it is a nonrenewable (and very dirty) material to create. Choose packaging materials that will work well for your products and needs, and align with your sustainability goals and analysis. And then, follow the next set of steps closely. 

  2. Regardless of what material you choose for your product and shipping packaging, look for 100% recycled (and as much post consumer waste) as possible. 

  3. Don’t make your packaging bigger than it needs to be, so you can avoid using excess materials and shipping air across the supply chain and to your customers. 

  4. Using as few materials as possible in your product and shipping packaging, eliminating aspects of the packaging design that don’t serve a clear purpose.

  5. Minimize use of mixed materials that can make recycling challenging. For example, if you are using a 100% recycled plastic container to package your actual product, look for a plastic product label as well. Avoid packaging that is a combination of paper and plastic (such as cardstock boxes with clear plastic windows or cushioned mailer with paper exterior and plastic bubble interior). These types of packaging are difficult, and sometimes impossible, to recycle. 

  6. Don’t forget to find eco-friendly inks, tapes, labels and adhesives! What “eco-friendly” means for these types of items varies based on the type of packaging you have chosen and its ideal end of life scenario. For example, corrugated boxes would ideally be paired with recycle-friendly adhesives, paper labels and paper tape. Poly mailers or plastic containers are ideally paired with plastic tape and labels. Choose inks that emit few or no VOCs (usually water or soy-based inks) and consider black algae ink, a water-based printing ink whose pigment is derived from renewable algae cells. 

  7. Clearly guide your customers to properly reuse, recycle, compost, or landfill each element of your packaging at the end of its life! 

Section 6: Product End of Life

Sustainable business models don’t just consider the logistical needs of packaging. Nothing lasts forever- end of life considerations should begin in the product and packaging design process.

Questions to consider look different for every product category.   

For consumables (food, candles, lotions, soap, etc), “end of life” refers largely to the remnants of what remains at the end as well as the product’s packaging. Though for some consumables, such as soaps and cleaners, you want to think through how the product behaves once it is washed down a drain. 

For durable goods (clothes, jewelry, accessories, water bottles, etc), “end of life” refers to either when the item is no longer in usable condition or when the purchaser no longer has  use for it.

The following is a list of ideas of how to think about and incorporate end of life considerations in your product design. Use the concepts that apply to your business and ignore the ones that don’t! Your main goal is to develop the optimal end of life scenario for your product and product packaging, design your goods as best as possible for that end of life, and make these steps as insanely clear as possible for your customers. 

  • Can you take back products and / or packaging at the end of life? Products can sometimes be remanufactured into new goods (which is good for business and the planet). In some industries, packaging can be sanitized and reused (and even sent back to the original customer with new product in it). 

  • Can your product be recycled at the end of its life? If so, where can it be recycled and what does it get turned into? Does the product need to be disassembled for recycling? If so, make this disassembly process easy and clear for your customers. If your product is recyclable, but not accepted by curbside programs, consider a take back program in which your company can direct old goods to the right reclaimer. 

  • Can your product be composted at the end of life? Composting is very sensitive to contamination, so if composting is the ideal end of life for your good, provide customers with clear instructions to remove any non-compostable elements of your goods and whether home or only industrial composting is feasible. 

  • If you sell something that gets sent down the drain, flushed down a toilet, put into our waters or soils, or put into the natural environment in any way, consider this impact. Ideally, design a product that is not only “less bad” for our waterways and soils, but actually beneficial. 

  • If applicable, direct your customers to the best organizations to work to donate your company’s products. Understand how well received your goods are when received as a donation and consider establishing formal partnerships with organizations most interested in your products. 

  • Design in such a way that encourages hand me downs. Patagonia jackets often come with multiple lines in the label so several different children can claim ownership over the course of a decade. This concept can be applied to so many things - toys, backpacks, hats, sunglasses, shoes, beds and cribs, and more. Just adding this label reminds a consumer to be thoughtful about reuse of an item. 

Section 7: Inventory Management

Managing inventory is an incredibly complex aspect of an ecommerce business. Depending on what you sell, you may need several sizes and/or colors for each SKU, and you want to make sure you strike the right balance of not overstocking (because this depletes your cash) and not going out of stock (because this leads to lost sales). So it is easy to overlook sustainability when it comes to inventory management. 

Here are a few concepts to help you get started. In general, most sustainable inventory strategies are in support of to goals: (1) minimizing the chance that end a season or time period with excess inventory you need to get rid of and (2) reducing your inventory requirements so you can lower your warehousing footprint. 

Don’t offer too many SKUs: There are over 160 Lays Potato Chip flavors and SKUs. This ridiculous trend is because in the traditional retail world, more SKUs means more shelf space. Thank goodness this isn't the case in ecommerce where you can have whatever number of SKUs are needed to appropriately satisfy your customer base. The more SKUs you carry, the trickier the balance of overstocking and out of stocking is, and the more likely you are to end up with excess stock at the end of a season. Additionally, the more space you take up in a warehouse (space that requires energy and resources to maintain). Review your product line and consider eliminating SKUs that may actually be a cash and operational drain on your business. 

Consider producing on demand: Stocking raw materials, and producing finished goods on demand, is an amazing strategy to help you manage your cash and your environmental impact. This approach also reduces the chance of your ending up with a lot of unusable stock at the end of a season, it also reduces your required warehouse footprint. 

Utilize a FIFO (first in, first out) inventory management approach: FIFO reduces the amount of obsolete or spoiled stock you have to deal with. This approach is absolutely essential for perishables, but has been shown to minimize damaged or obsolete inventory in any warehouse environment.  

Chances are, you’ll still end up with some (hopefully very little) excess inventory, even if you’ve made the above strategies second nature. So the last step is to ensure you have a solid plan for this inventory - including sales and clearance events, giveaways, and donations. 

Section 8: Transportation and Shipping

There are two main areas of distribution that an ecommerce business needs to consider: transportation of raw materials and products across the supply chain and shipping orders to customers. 

When it comes to supply chain distribution, remember that shipping via rail and ocean freight are significantly better for the environment than trucking and air cargo. 

This same principle applies to shipping to customers as well. It is tempting to compete with Amazon’s free two day prime shipping strategy (and now, same day delivery options!). But if you don’t have a warehouse in every region, guaranteeing two day shipping means that some orders will require air travel. Don’t let the Amazon catalyzed culture of “I needed it yesterday” force you to make decisions that are dangerous for the planet. 

Become very comfortable telling customers that you ship ground, which means 1-5 (sometimes 6 or 7) day transit depending on where someone lives in relation to your warehouse(s). 

Internally, we’ve come to think of this as a “slow commerce” movement. One in which customers plan and have patience, which in turn allows companies to operate thoughtfully and ecologically. 

Finally, consider working with UPS, FedEx or USPS to offset each shipment. This can even be incorporated into your checkout process, so customers can proactively offset the carbon footprint of shipping an order to them. 

Section 9: Managing returns

Around 30% of ecommerce orders are returned (which doesn’t include that likely host of ecommerce orders that may not be returned, but go unused in someone’s closet). 

Your return-goals as an ecommerce business? 

Reduce the rate of returns by being transparent and clear about your products - how they look, how they fit, how they feel, their sizing, etc. Every return or exchange that you’ve avoided through excellent communication eliminates the carbon footprint of sending an order back. 

Make the returns process as seamless as possible. This helps your business because frictionless returns help make loyal customers. The steps to ensure a seamless returns process also help the environment:

  • Encourage customers to use your original packaging for returns

  • Get customers return labels as quickly as possible, and ensure the returns are shipped ground

  • Give customers enough time to return their item, making it less likely that an unwanted item languishes, and more likely that it is returned to you where it can be resold to someone who actually wants it

Finally, don’t follow the path of fast fashion offenders by discarding or burning returns! This practice is so horrifying. Put excess inventory on extreme clearance or donate it. If you need to make adjustments to it to ensure this process doesn’t tarnish your brand, make those adjustments. Or take a queue from prAna and Patagonia and find a partnership (such as theirs with the Renewal Workshop) with an organization that can refurbish and resell your returned or mismanufactured goods.

Section 10: Office operations and work environment

For many ecommerce brands, office practices have a relatively low contribution to your environmental footprint, compared to other aspects of the business. However, these are easy wins and, even more important, these steps help build a company culture around sustainability. There are dozens of ways to green up your office. Here, we are sharing a few ideas to get you started. 

Food and beverages: Look for sustainably produced goods, fair trade where relevant. Seek out options with minimal packaging that is easily recycled (and make it easy for the team to recycle it!). Consider having some team events that are vegan or vegetarian.

Kitchen supplies: Avoid disposable kitchen supplies, such as single use plates or utensils, Keurig or other pod coffee makers, single packets of sugars and condiments. Washing dishes, sharing a coffee pot, sharing creamer -- we’d argue that these are foundations of a cohesive and eco-minded team! 

Office and warehouse supplies: Encourage thoughtful use and placement of those office supplies that are so often misplaced - pens, notebooks, paper, dry erase markers, scotch tape, etc. Where possible, look for items that can be reused long-term (such as refillable pens). Look for recycled supplies where possible, such as recycled plastic pallets. For larger ticket items such as work benches and seating, look for used goods. 

Commuting: Reward team members who carpool, take public transportation or walk or bike to work. If feasible, offer telecommuting options. 

Waste management: Look at the waste generated within your office environment and identify opportunities for source reduction, recycling and composting. Identify hard to recycle waste items you generate and find partners for this waste stream.   

Section 11: Corporate activism and engagement

Businesses that have done the hard and underappreciated work of greening their product, supply chain and operations often wonder, “what next?” They may be asking “how can they move from minimizing their footprint to being a positive contributor in the fight for environmental progress?” 

Corporate activism and engagement come in many different flavors - donating a portion of proceeds, community volunteering and engagement, buy one give one, and political advocacy are three big ones. Here are a few examples of corporate engagement strategies employed by sustainable e commerce companies to help you think through how this could look for your company.

1% for the Planet: This is an awesome “give back” model. Certified businesses or individual members give directly to highly vetted environmental nonprofit organizations, and 1% For the Planet verifies these donations, ensuring that member contributions make the most impact possible. 

United By Blue: United By Blue is an outdoor brand focused on ocean conservation. In addition to developing a line of sustainable fabrics and products, UBB removes one pound of trash from oceans or waterways for every product sold. 

Patagonia: Patagonia is arguably the world’s leading environmental activist brand. The company takes very public stances on key environmental policies and gives grants to grassroots ecological activists worldwide.  

Better World Books: This company gets used books through drives (helping to keep books from going unused or sent to the landfill), sells these books, and donates one book (through Feed the Children or Books For Africa) for each book sold.  

Section 12: Marketing your efforts

The journey to greening your business is never over. You don’t really reach a summit where you feel that you have “made it” and you’re officially sustainable. There is always more work to be done, and always new opportunities to improve your products, supply chain, operations and overall impact. 

But as you make progress and accomplish big environmental wins, you’ll know when you’ve reached a point in which eco-focused decision making has become core to who your business is and how you operate. At that point, be sure to showcase your eco efforts and commitment to your customers, through:

  1. Your homepage, with banners and imagery highlighting your eco investments and your genuine commitment to ecological progress
  2. Eco comparisons on your product page. If you have developed a great measurement system, put “resource savings” on each product page, showing how your products are a better alternative to standard options
  3. Social media, through stories, live Q&A and posts describing your changes
  4. PR pushes, especially when you’ve made a major product or operational change
  5. Speaking engagements where you can inspire other businesses to follow your lead
  6. Blogs and other content through which you can take customers deeper into the why behind your sustainability-related investments

These marketing efforts should serve a few different purposes.

First, you need to ensure your eco efforts not only help the planet, but also help your business thrive. The world needs companies who are truly making ecological commitments to be the ones that succeed. This can only happen if your eco investments result in more customers and increased customer loyalty. 

Second, the planet needs consumers who are educated enough about sustainable business practices that they can thoughtfully “vote with their wallets.” This education happens when the most progressive businesses make sustainability-related information clear and accessible to their customers, so people know what to look for when they are shopping around more broadly. 

Finally, we here at EcoEnclose think that the ecommerce industry is in need of a movement away from an Amazon-inspired Quick Ship, Free Shipping, Prime mentality, towards one in which online purchasing decisions are more thoughtful, patient and eco-minded. 

This type of shift can happen when sustainable ecommerce businesses promote their efforts and band together with like minded companies and customers to create a new “slow commerce” movement, in which people are proud of every decision made not to be cheaper and faster, but instead to be more thoughtful and values-aligned. Sustainable business practices and an eco-friendly business model aren’t just good for the planet, they’re good for business. Start the greening process today!