E-commerce has been a revolutionary shift in the way businesses and consumers interact. It has also opened up a new world of opportunity for entrepreneurs who want to effect change. In fact, since the explosion of online marketplaces in the mid-1990s, the prospect of going green has never been more tangible for millions of people worldwide.
Apart from creating more options for retail buyers, e-commerce has had the significant side effect of transferring power into the hands of consumers. In the dominant days of the department store, eco-friendly customers had a relatively limited toolset to guide their consumer behavior. You would go to the store and have a narrow selection of questionably produced (in terms of their environmental impact) items to make your purchase.
The wide range of available options in the era of internet commerce allows people to make sustainable choices in the products they buy. E-commerce also gives conscientious customers the power to impose the trends that make for a greener planet. Let’s look at four ways that e-commerce is helping consumers go green.
1. Increasing Consumer Access to Information
The internet allows consumers to research the brands and products they honor with their patronage. Never before has access to information about a brand been available to every consumer with just a tap of their smartphone screen. News stories, articles, regulatory authority data, reviews, and testimonials are available on every company in every niche.
With the advent of e-commerce, consumers can research the production and transportation path of their favorite items from the comfort of their own homes. They can determine whether sustainability is the center of focus for manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers involved in bringing the goods to market. If wasteful practices govern the production and transport of an item, consumers can seek alternatives in the ocean of e-commerce offerings.
When it comes to making a purchase, consumer due diligence is only half of the decision-making equation. E-commerce companies that provide full transparency allow their audiences to make fair comparisons between market players. When shopping online, rather than in a physical store, customers who demand green practices from the businesses they interact with can learn about their favorite retailer’s quality control standards before making a purchase. It’s one thing for a retailer to claim they run a green operation; it’s another to provide irrefutable, third-party proof that retailers apply what they claim.
2. Making Sustainability an Easy Choice
With a third of global consumers willing to pay more for sustainable products, the greater selection of alternatives offered by the e-commerce ecosystem allows customers to make greener choices. In the brick-and-mortar era, consumers were limited by the sales locations they could easily access in a reasonable geographical radius. Having to drive several hours away from home to find a relatively greener retailer would defeat the purpose of sustainability. In addition, the greenhouse gas emissions of such a shopping expedition could render the trip more wasteful than purchasing an item from the local shop.
With e-commerce, conscientious consumers no longer have to make that painful choice. Instead, finding environmentally-minded e-commerce businesses is a simple task that removes the guilt and frustration from the shopping equation. In addition, paying a little more for items with minimal environmental impact and are made from eco-friendly materials can eventually make these greener items more economically viable and thus more affordable..
3. Adopting Sustainable Packaging Practices
One of the areas where the online commerce space has been lacking in its response is the high impact of product packaging on the environment, as many online businesses may need to use more packaging in order to ship their products to the consumer However, through consumer pressure, even small e-commerce businesses are turning to less bulky, recyclable, and renewable packaging for their items. As a result, big corporations are committing to make their respective product packaging completely sustainable within the next few years.
Traditional packaging materials, such as cardboard and plastic, can create a lot of waste. However, by using sustainable packaging materials, businesses can reduce their environmental footprint. Many sustainable packaging options are even lighter-weight, and thus cheaper and more environmentally-friendly to ship. Some sustainable packaging options include recycled cardboard, paper, and biodegradable plastics, compostable packaging, or simply reduced packaging.
Finally, one of the biggest differences between a physical store and an online store is that e-commerce relies on their website to market to consumers, rather than colorful or attractive brand packaging. As a result, many e-commerce stores are reducing the amount of marketing packaging they use around the product itself and shipping it direct-to-consumer. This greatly reduces the amount of packaging e-commerce uses when compared to the heavily packaged products found at most stores today.
Besides avoiding wasteful packaging, consumers can also go green by opting to receive their products a bit later than normal. By selecting to receive their orders whenever the supply chain can optimally deliver products, logistics companies can apply less wasteful timetables and transport methods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, helping the consumer to actually reduce the impacts of e-commerce on the environment.
4. Forcing Businesses to Change Through Natural Selection
E-commerce businesses are heavily reliant on social media for interacting with their audiences. The social activism that platforms like Facebook and YouTube provide can potentially drive important trends. Consumers need to make greener choices, but being more assertive towards e-commerce businesses can bring lasting change. E-commerce is particularly vulnerable to the words and views of consumers, because many shoppers read reviews of a product or company right on the website when making a purchase; this provides consumers with enormous power to impact a brand’s image. Companies that adopt the green practices that people are demanding will survive, while wasteful enterprises stuck in their harmful ways risk hurting their bottom line.
In recent years, there are countless cases in which consumers were able to band together and bring corporate giants to their knees. While this new and powerful form of online consumer activism has mostly centered around social issues, price gouging, or politics, efforts that focus on environmental issues are materializing and gaining steam.
E-commerce as the Way to Greener Consumerism
The advent of e-commerce brought profits to established companies while at the same time allowing smaller players to compete and thrive. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that e-commerce is more ethical or sustainable as a whole, it certainly helps push companies across multiple sectors in the right direction.
In addition to increased profits as a result of e-commerce, the environment can also come out on top with the help of eco-friendly consumers with the will to effect change. Shopping online provides consumers many tools with which they can repair a broken and wasteful way of buying and selling. By making informed decisions, audiences can buy sustainable goods that are manufactured, packaged, and transported in an environmentally viable way.