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Greening the online retailing space

Greening the online retailing space

It would be safe to say, that few of us are unaware of the current need for reform, and the implications of business-as-usual into the future. Many industries have taken significant steps to lessen their environmental impacts. The retail industry in general, however has been considered laggards in the arena of sustainability, but the good news is that there has never been a better time to make change.

In terms of environmental impacts, companies can be considered to have both direct and indirect impacts on the environment. These impacts will be dependent on the type of business and the products or services that they provide. Mostly they will be specific to the activities of a particular business (or industry). This article will attempt to discuss some of the direct and indirect impacts associated with trading online, and for those considering change; this should be considered as only a portion of your environmental impacts rather than a total.

A study which compared the sale of books online to purchasing from a bricks and mortar store, found that E-Commerce sales appear to have both cost advantages and

environmental benefits. This is highly dependent though on the distance the customer travels to reach the store, and the nature of transportation selected by the online retailer (freight versus air). Freight (truck) having a lower environmental impact than air.

Typically online retailing has significant impacts with its freight and packaging components. In typical business to consumer e-commerce processes, greenhouse gas emissions are generated by

    1. Fuel used in the distribution of products from manufacturer to online retailer and then to consumer (at home)
    2. Energy required producing packaging (boxes, packaging tape, plastic wrap, paper bags)
    3. Energy required distributing packaging from manufacturer to online retailer’s warehouse
    4. Energy required operating warehouse
    5. Energy at “sales point” home

There are several steps you can take to minimise the impact of your company on the planet. Here are some worth considering.

    1. Select product delivery systems that are the most energy-efficient.
    2. Encourage shippers to use alternative fuels – you have the potential to positively impact your supply chain
    3. Purchase and use packaging which is reusable, recyclable and is environmentally safe.
    4. Minimise the amount of packaging you use
    5. Encourage responsible disposal and recycling of packaging with your consumers
    6. Buy Green – from office paper to pens and pencils, green purchasing options are everywhere
    7. Purchase accredited green energy (or a percentage of) to power your facilities
    8. Be transparent about your the processes and practices and their environmental impacts. More shoppers are questioning this and sound environmental practices will improve your reputation.
    9. Understand the environmental impacts of the products you are selling.
    10. Buy carbon offsets

These are some of the steps you can take to reduce your footprint. There are several organisations dedicated to helping you to address your impacts including Sustainability Victorias Resourcesmart Business Program, Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) Grow Me the Money Program, as well as several private sustainability consultancies ready to assist.

Want to know more about  sustainability and how it can benefit your business, read Ken Hicksons article A Challenge For Business: Sustainability Is The Name Of The Game which recently appeared in EcoVoice. Ken Hickson is the author of “The ABC of Carbon” and director of ABC Carbon, a climate change consulting business

About the author:

Karen Freidin is an Environment and Sustainability Professional, she can be reached at [email protected]

References:

Matthews and Hendrickson, 2001, Economic and Environmental  implications of online retailing in the United States

Nevin Cohen, 2002, E-Commerce and the environment, in Sustainability at the Speed of Light, WWF

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