With no big, bright physical stores to power, there's a common perception that ecommerce brands' operational carbon footprint must be low. The lack of a bricks and mortar presence is an undeniable energy saving, but it's important for ecommerce brands to acknowledge the very real impact of an online store in terms of CO2 emissions.
Read on to learn more about the carbon cost of your ecommerce store, and explore three ways that your ecommerce business can start to reduce it.
The Carbon Cost of Ecommerce
As online retailers, we may not be running physical stores, but the data centres that power our busy, product-packed websites are power-hungry, very real and rarely run on renewable energy. Factor in the energy requirements of transition networks and the end-user devices used to view our ecommerce stores, and the cumulative carbon count quickly starts to climb.
Of course, this is before we've even considered the impact of our digital marketing efforts and internal communication. Transmission of data is a fairly significant factor in terms of pollution, [contributing to 4% of our greenhouse gas emission]
If you're curious about your own store's carbon footprint, face the music using a tool such as WebsiteCarbon. That should get you sufficiently fired up to take action – and here are three great ways to get started, beyond the operational impact of your store's website...
1. Educate your customers about the impact of their choices
A great way to start to tackle the overall carbon footprint of your ecommerce business is to focus on the behaviours of your end-user – your customer. If better, greener habits are encouraged here, they can quickly scale across multiple purchases. People do tend to care about their carbon footprint - they just might need a gentle reminder at times!
Returns are a huge issue when it comes to carbon emissions. Not only are goods needlessly transported for greater distances, returned products are often disposed of rather than resold. Highlight this fact to your customers through well-worded messaging.
For example, if someone is buying multiple sizes of the same item, the assumption can be made that they intend to return all but one - could your checkout process recognise and flag this behaviour? Could you produce better sizing guides or point customers towards reviews that discuss fit in more detail? Would an AI-powered fitting platform such as Fit Analytics be a possibility?
With regard to shipping, could messaging be put in place to highlight the extra carbon cost of next day delivery - do they really need their item the next day, or would they be happy to wait and make a more climate-friendly choice? If they do require expedited delivery, maybe they would like to round up to offset the additional carbon cost?
2. Integrate an offsetting app into your checkout experience
Some carbon emissions are inevitable when it comes to ecommerce fulfilment, and while reduction at source is always preferable to mitigating real damage done, carbon offsetting can be a good solution for the "necessary evils" that will arise.
Carbon offsetting apps have seen a big rise in popularity within the Shopify space over recent years, and you'll find many options on the App store. There's a really broad range of functionality across these solutions, and many focus on bringing enhancement and added value to your customer experience - great news for planet and profit.
As a carbon-neutral platform, it's no surprise that Shopify offers their own option, Offset, and it should also be noted that customers making purchases via the Shop app will have their delivery automatically offset. Factor in their commitment to offset all BFCM delivery emissions and Shopify really are leading from the front here.
If you're looking for a solution that helps ensure some of the good you do is felt locally, then CarbonClick's unique “blended basket” approach to carbon offsets might be of interest.
3. Consider Your Digital Carbon Footprint
Remember that it's also important to consider the physical impact of your digital decisions! As we mentioned at the start of this article, data carries a carbon cost, so taking steps to make sure this is minimised wherever possible will all add up.
From less energy-intensive websites (OrganicBasics have really set the standard here), through to a more mindful approach to electronic communications and digital marketing, there are a lot of positive steps you can take to become a less resource-intensive business.
Grab a coffee and stick this MindfulCommerce podcast on; CarbonClick takes to the mic to discuss the various ways that e-commerce merchants and their customers can offset their carbon footprint and why it's so important.
Rise to the challenge – lower your emissions
As a Shopify merchant, you've already built your ecommerce business upon climate-friendly foundations. But there's always more we can do – and it's increasingly vital that we take this kind of positive action; for people, planet and profit.