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Sustainable ecommerce – Challenges and opportunities for a green future

By 31 August 2023No Comments
Ecommerce sostenibile

In recent years, the environmental sustainability has emerged as an indisputable imperative for any industry, including e-commerce. Recent research conducted in collaboration with Confcommercio Rome is Format Research revealed that almost 80% of Italian consumers prefer to buy online from a sustainable ecommerce and by brands that embrace sustainability policies. 

However, it is worrying to find that fewer than 50% of the country's businesses have actually invested in sustainability initiatives, and of these, fewer than 1 in 10 plan to do so in the future. This gap between consumer demand and business adoption represents a significant challenge, but it also offers a key opportunity for the e-commerce sector to transform its operations to a more sustainable model.

The challenges for sustainable ecommerce

The challenges that e-commerce faces on its path to sustainability are multiple and complex. Many of these challenges involve changes that impact the entire product lifecycle, requiring significant investments and profound operational changes. It is understandable that this may cause resistance, which is why companies 52% are still reluctant to take this path. 

However, it is crucial to recognize that companies that adopt sustainable practices and promote eco-friendly products have a greater chance of attracting consumers, gaining a competitive advantage.

Another crucial challenge is represented by logistics. Using environmentally friendly transportation for shipments is a priority for 52.7% consumers, but currently appears to be less of a priority for businesses. However, 38.7% of companies are willing to invest more for a logistics service with low environmental impact. 

This represents a sign of positive change, and indicates that there is growing interest in carbon-free and sustainable logistics. Optimizing delivery routes, adopting electric vehicles and leveraging artificial intelligence to improve transport efficiency are just some of the strategies that can be implemented to reduce the environmental impact of logistics.

The solutions 

Among the many solutions that e-commerce companies (and not only) can adopt to embrace sustainability, one of the first and most visible is the packaging. Investing in sustainable and recyclable packaging materials is a priority for 76.8% of companies that are considering sustainability. 

This is in line with consumer preferences, as 71.4% of them consider the use of recyclable packaging materials as a crucial factor. Reducing the amount of packaging and adopting sustainable materials therefore represent primary objectives.

An analysis conducted by McKinsey revealed that disposing of packaging from products purchased online has a CO2 emissions impact that is almost 20 times higher than purchasing in-store. This data highlights the urgent need to adopt strategies to reduce the environmental impact of packaging sustainable ecommerce.

A critical issue often overlooked even by sustainable ecommerce concerns returns. Online purchases lead to a much higher return rate than in-store purchases, with 20% of online purchases worldwide being returns. 

This not only increases transport-related emissions, but also contributes to the waste of products that often cannot be put back on the market. It has been estimated that each returned item shipped generates emissions equivalent to approximately 180 kg of CO2. 

To address this issue, it is essential to improve the quality of product information, so that consumers can make more informed decisions and reduce returns. The implementation of efficient returns management processes, with a well-structured reverse logistics strategy, represents another fundamental step. 

Obviously, it will be impossible to bring the return rate to zero, since there will always be a dissatisfied consumer, for whatever reason. All you can do about it is reduce the chance of this happening. 

Finally, one area in which many companies are already making progress is that ofpower. The use of technologies that exploit renewable sources represents a priority for the 25,2% of companies committed to sustainability. Furthermore, 15.9% has invested in structural interventions for energy saving. 

This shows that companies are starting to recognize the value of adopting sustainable energy sources and reducing energy waste. Sustainable e-commerce must therefore pay close attention to waste and focus on renewable energy sources.

In conclusion, sustainable e-commerce has the opportunity to embrace environmental sustainability in a meaningful way. While there are complex challenges to overcome, adopting sustainable practices in the industry can bring benefits to both businesses and the environment. 

Investing in sustainable packaging materials, promoting eco-friendly shipping, efficiently managing returns and using renewable energy sources are just some of the many avenues the e-commerce sector can take to create a more sustainable future. 

With an increasing number of consumers valuing sustainability as a determining factor in their purchasing decisions, the step towards a greener e-commerce economy has become an urgent necessity.

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