Going green will be a top priority for ecommerce brands in 2021. Climate concern has escalated during the pandemic, and greenhouse gas emissions reporting may soon become a legal requirement for all British businesses. Last June, the UK became the first major economy to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming by 2050. The bar has been set high for other economies, with governments around the world expected to take action, committing to a ‘green economic recovery’.
Perhaps most importantly, a landmark event is taking place in Glasgow this November, expected to catapult climate action to the next level. COP 26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, will see world leaders and cultural and business representatives gather to address carbon reduction.
The onus will be on businesses to deliver measurable change, and help educate the communities they operate in. Charles Ogilvie, Director of Strategy for COP26, has said brands must adopt a “challenge function”, so that consumers learn how important it is to live sustainably, and make everyday choices with environmental impacts in mind.
Balancing convenience and sustainability in ecommerce
Undoubtedly, COP 26 will be a game-changer, and I’m confident the European ecommerce industry will embrace the call for greater accountability in their carbon footprint. But the truth is that ‘going green’ can be challenging. Yes, we all want to operate sustainably, but we also know that customers crave convenience and immediacy when they order items online – and never more so than during a pandemic. Ecommerce is booming with demand massively accelerated by COVID-19, but the reality is that offering an effortless customer experience and driving an ecommerce revolution does have an impact on the planet we’re trying to protect.
A recent survey by Getty Images found that while 48% of consumers say they know they should care more about the environment through their purchasing habits – convenience takes priority. One way around this dichotomy is for ecommerce brands to meet their customers half way – making the transportation and delivery of their goods as carbon efficient as possible.
Efficiency protects the environment
Much has been achieved in this respect. Retailers have worked tirelessly in the last decade to reduce packaging waste, to find the most efficient shipping and delivery routes, to invest in electric vehicles and to minimise returns. Meanwhile postal operators and third-party logistics providers (3PLs) are implementing innovative solutions to deal with both increased demand and the need to become carbon neutral. Together, we are stepping up to the plate.
Building efficiency into logistics and delivery is a great place to start, and reputable supply chain operators do this as a matter of course. By deploying AI and sophisticated planning and forecasting software, labour and waste management can be addressed in warehouses and across international shipping routes. With data analytics it’s possible to track performance and drive improvements over time, allowing greener decisions to be made. Leading logistics companies are now evaluating shipping routes for ways to reduce fuel consumption, idle time and other wasteful practices that increase carbon dioxide levels.
Placing inventory closer to customers
Fulfillment networks are expensive to build, so ambitious brands are partnering with 3PLs to tap into their far-flung fulfillment networks. If fulfilment centres can be strategically located for proximity to manufacturers or customers in target regions, brands have a competitive edge, while also seeing an environmental benefit. When inventory is in the right location, orders can be transported faster and routed more efficiently, all of which will lower costs and carbon footprint.
Asendia’s work with Chilly’s Bottles is a case in point. From our fulfilment centre in Bedford we are able to provide flexible storage, while pick and pack can be scaled in line with international growth plans. Fast-growing brands like this can utilise our fulfilment centres in Asia and the USA when they expand beyond Europe, tapping into our knowledge of these markets and benefiting from advice on the most cost and energy efficient ways to reach new customers.
Carbon offsetting of shipments in practice
For maximum flexibility in the ecommerce supply chain, we have just developed a new range of international parcel services, the e-PAQ range. Retailers can meet customers’ exact needs regarding convenience and choice while cutting their carbon footprint, because we now offset all CO2 emissions for transport within Europe. We also offset the carbon footprint of shipments from Europe to other continents, excluding the first-mile and the last mile.
There’s currently no way to totally eliminate carbon emissions from ecommerce shipping, as most of the transportation industry still relies on fossil fuels. However, with offsetting a more ethical way of doing business becomes possible.
By investing in seven wind farm sites in India, Asendia’s offsetting scheme provides cleaner energy, and supports local economies. Looking forward, we are committed to investing more time and resources to further offset our carbon emissions – something our ecommerce customers greatly appreciate.
The race to reach net zero
This year a greener supply chain will become an essential part of doing ecommerce business. COP 26 will amplify consumer understanding of the need to act responsibility, and it will nudge global administrations to take legislative action.
Ecommerce brands must therefore drive sustainability without compromising the convenience that customers have come to expect. Logistics partners are ideally positioned to advise and report to their clients, and this collaboration should be at the heart of building sustainable ecommerce businesses going forward. Perhaps not surprisingly, a Collaborate UK survey of 1,000 UK business owners last year revealed that 28% plan to improve their supply chain efficiency, with 27% looking to switch to greener logistics suppliers.
Finding the right supply chain and international postal partners – ideally those that have already made progress towards carbon reduction and offsetting – is therefore a smart move for socially-responsible ecommerce companies. After all, without clear evidence of sustainability in the supply chain, the danger is that ecommerce won’t look very green at all.
Simon Batt, CEO at Asendia UK