Guest Article

Tips for Operating Your Own Sustainable Ecommerce Business

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Sustainability has become a priority in our current social and economic landscape. If each of us doesn’t make some serious changes soon, the results could be catastrophic — indeed, a United Nations report predicts we have until 2030 to prevent the irreversible consequences of climate change. There is clearly an ethical imperative to take urgent action; for businesses, there are some solid commercial reasons, too.

Consumers are increasingly showing a preference for companies that demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. This includes businesses in the e-commerce industry. Though you might think that companies that deal in manufacturing or other more obviously polluting industries are the biggest offenders, in reality, e-commerce — alongside sectors like shipping that support it — still contributes. Customers are increasingly savvy on this subject and they make buying decisions accordingly.

We’re going to take a look at some of the tools, activities, and strategies you can apply in ways that will make a difference both to the planet and to your bottom line.

Improve Efficiency

One of the most important and practical ways you can adopt sustainability in your business is by making it more efficient. E-commerce companies don’t necessarily cause harm because of an outright disregard for the environment. Rather, it’s more that their practices aren’t well optimized.

Fulfillment is one of the most complex aspects of any e-commerce business, which can contribute to its general inefficiency. The demand for e-commerce services and deliveries can cause even small, regular issues to have a significant impact. However, there are methods that can make it more eco-friendly. Automated procedures have become more accessible to businesses of all sizes in the last few years — with labeling systems, inventory management, and even artificial intelligence software becoming more affordable. Utilizing these can help you reduce errors and optimize activities in the fulfillment stage.

You can focus on the efficient consumption of resources, too. In both your warehousing and office activities, consider replacing all light bulbs with energy-efficient versions. When you’re investing in new computers, tablet devices, even break-room refrigerators and microwaves, select those that are Energy Star rated — this is the government program to make identifying efficient devices easier. Remember, efforts in efficiency are not just good for the environment, they also have a significant impact on your operating overheads.

Provide Staff Training

Your staff will always be one of your most valuable assets. However, their behavior can also be a problem when it comes to maintaining sustainability. This generally doesn’t come from a lack of care. One report found that almost 40% of millennials have chosen jobs because the company is sustainable. Rather, it comes from a lack of knowledge. As such, it is important to put in place training programs that are designed to ensure your employees operate sustainably.

Focus here can include: 

  • Tech Tools

Make it part of your operating protocols to utilize electronic means of document-sharing rather than more wasteful printing. Train staff on how they should be using cloud-based systems for tasks such as invoicing and even strategic planning.

Importantly, ensure that you communicate best-practice behaviors for efficiently and sustainably utilizing the tech they have at their disposal. Reinforce the importance of shutting down computers when they are not in use. Even guidelines for switching off lights in rooms as staff leave can be important.

  • Resource Management

It can be easy for employees to think that the resources they personally consume during the day are the company’s responsibility, rather than theirs. Provide them with training that dispels them of this impression, and bolsters skills in resource management, which are not just good for the planet and the company, but can also aid in career development.

For fulfillment-center workers, for instance, this can include reducing the number of packing materials they’re using in the shipping process by consolidating items into single packages. Make sure this isn’t limited to initial training but is also discussed at stages of the talent development program and during staff evaluations.

Audit Regularly

It’s important to remember that sustainability isn’t a static issue. You can’t just put some measures in place and consider the matter dealt with. Like most other industries, the e-commerce sector is always shifting and developing, and as such the issues that are relevant today may not be so next year. Positive measures can easily fall away when they are not maintained. Therefore, you should commit to regular sustainability auditing.

Every year, run through your operations and assess them. Where relevant, gather key members from each department to assist in this, as they will be able to provide you with insights into their area of expertise. Review what changes were made previously, and how successful these have been. Most importantly, look for new areas that have not been addressed and make plans to do so.

Don’t forget that some of the best insights may come from your business’s finances. As a business leader, it’s always important to evaluate the current state of the books and seek to understand what aspects might be problematic. This can also give you insights into how successful your sustainability efforts are, as eco-conscious habits tend to have a positive effect on your overheads.

Utilizing accountancy technology can help you not just maintain your balance sheets, but also better assess how your utility bills have changed over the past years. Paying attention to these types of things can ensure you get an accurate overview of what savings have been made due to your efforts, and where areas of leakage may still be.


The e-commerce industry is as responsible for the ongoing health of the planet as any other. It doesn’t take a huge effort to make a significant difference. Make gradual changes, implement better training, and keep reviewing your progress. With consistent effort, your company can have a positive influence on the planet, reduce overheads, and attract more environmentally conscious customers.

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