What a Waste: Simple Ways Retailers Can Reduce Environmental Harm

Power Retail By Power Retail | 10 Feb 2020

The world knows that it’s time to make big changes to reduce environmental impact, but many retailers haven’t made the first move. Here’s how you can.

As e-commerce continues to power through the masses within Australia there are several trends that are following in its shadow. From same-day delivery to parcel lockers, as technology and customer behaviour adapts and changes, it can be hard to make sure that it’s not just the customer or retailer that benefits.

According to the Power Retail Spotlight Series: Last Mile Delivery, 79 percent of Australian consumers believe that retailers should have sustainable practices to reduce the impact on the environment.  Furthermore, retailers agree with this sentiment, with 78 percent believing that implementing environmentally friendly options are imperative in this current landscape.

Recently, the call for sustainable alternatives has become prevalent throughout retail. How do retailers make sure the products they’re delivering aren’t damaging to the oceans or adding to the billions of tonnes worth of waste every year. The fashion industry, which makes up for 31 percent of e-commerce transactions in Australia, currently produces more than 92 million tons of waste worldwide every year.

This is not a new story – retailers across the globe are fully aware of the ramifications of not having a sustainable future locked in place. However, not every retailer takes these facts into consideration. The fast fashion industry alone consumes 20 percent of the world’s water supply – it takes 2,700 litres of water to produce a single cotton T-shirt.

Reducing Packaging Waste

  1. Reduce Packaging Size

    Not every change that a retailer makes has to be huge in order to have an impact on the environment. Kate Morris, the CEO and Founder of Adore Beauty, cut out 235 kilos of excess waste every week by reducing the sizes of the delivery packages.

    “We’ve always been very conscious of trying to be environmentally friendly – we use recycled/recyclable paper to pad our boxes, for example, and we avoid bubble wrap as much as possible. We were looking for a new warehouse management system (WMS) so one of the key features we wanted was the ability to calculate the required box size for each order so that we could introduce smaller boxes,” Morris told Power Retail.

  2. Replace Styrofoam Peanuts with Starch

    From semi-precious items such as perfume bottles to glass ornaments, reducing the shock during transit is best combatted using packing peanuts. Typically made from styrofoam, they’re cheap and prevent damage to purchased goods. Despite its best efforts, these peanuts often end up in the bin with other waste and are unimaginably bad for the environment. So, what’s the solution? You can’t just stop using this packaging process, but you can offer an alternative. Bio-degradable packing peanuts made from starch are an easy way to reduce packaging waste, but it does come at a price. This alternative weighs slightly more than traditional packing peanuts, which may inflate the overall shipping cost for your customers. An example of this solution is from Flora & Fauna, who is a Certified B-Corp company. In 2016, Flora & Fauna removed the plastic from its packaging and turned to starch packing peanuts as an alternative to the traditional option.

    “We are very focused on making responsible decisions, our environment and leading the way as a retailer,” Mathers explained on the Flora & Fauna site. “We believe we have to make changes to help our planet and ourselves, and we are constantly improving what we do.”

  3. Remove Branding from the Packages

    Much like the first two options, this is an alternative to the traditional packaging style that retailers and consumers are used to. Sixty percent of consumers in the U.S. associate branded packaging with a more affluent company, but this doesn’t mean that retailers can’t take steps to reduce waste and stay on-brand. Rather than having brightly coloured covering on a parcel, why not add branded recycled tissue paper inside the box?

    When shopping online at Mecca, customers are given the option of choosing branded packaging or sustainable options. This is a great way to keep consumers happy if they’re buying a product as a gift, and reducing waste at the same time. On the Mecca website, the options are clearly available: “With our Signature Packaging, your order comes beautifully packed in a deluxe MECCA box lined with tissue paper and housed for protection in a white mailing box. As an eco-friendly alternative, opt for our Sustainable Packaging which uses recycled and recyclable materials. Your order will be protected in a cardboard box and paper filling,” the FAQs read.

Reducing Last-Mile Delivery Emissions

The last mile for e-commerce is often the most costly and environmentally harmful. In this current environment, it’s almost impossible to not offer delivery speeds that match competition. This means that same-day delivery will never not be an option for consumers in the future. However, there are alternatives to these speedy delivery times that can dramatically reduce the number of carbon emissions put into the air every day.

  1. Click & Collect

    For omnichannel retailers, this may already be an option in the timeline. Providing consumers with the option to make an order online and pick it up in-store or at a local pickup facility can radically decrease shipping costs, pricey returns and environmental impact. Retailers such as Bunnings Warehouse has implemented this option to its strategy, as well as Myer, Woolworths and many others. You can read more about Click & Collect here.

  2. Pollution-Free Transport

    There is an alternative way to get your parcels from A to B, and Amazon Australia is already implementing it. As Uber and other food delivery services have demonstrated, using bicycles are an environmentally friendly option for transporting goods to homes. Amazon Australia’s launch of Amazon Flex allows regular Aussies to deliver packages in their own time.

    If this isn’t a viable option, why not turn to H&M, who are launching the testing of bicycle deliveries. The Swedish retailer will offer next-day delivery for online orders throughout The Netherlands and across 30 cities. “Of course cycling is a pollution-free mode of transport — a person who rides 10 kilometres each way to work will save around 150,000 kilograms of carbon emissions each year,” said Joanne Woo, a spokesperson for Deliveroo. “When you see that transport is the second-largest source of carbon emissions in Australia, it is a massive saving if we can get more people to cycle.”

via H&M

H&M is trialling delivery by bicycle across 30 cities

Now more than ever is the time for retailers to make serious inroads for its sustainable future. Whether this means reducing the size of parcel packages or offering bicycle delivery, there is no longer an excuse for Aussie e-commerce companies to take action against the War on Waste.

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