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Sustainability in Ecommerce: A greener future

The rise of sustainability has been an ongoing trend in eCommerce, going hand in hand with the rise in online shopping. More than ever, brands need to be aware of the environmental impact their businesses are having, and recent data even suggests that sustainability is good for business.

Here are 6 ways you can be more sustainable as an online business:

  • Provide upcycling services
  • Introduce plastic-free packaging
  • Don’t offer free returns
  • Be descriptive
  • Use sustainable shipping
  • Communication = Change


2020 marked the beginning of the Decade of Action, a global initiative set out by the UN to accelerate institutions’ actions towards reaching their eco-friendly goals by 2030. 

As competition to become more sustainable escalates, so do the conversions of eco-friendly products and services, with younger generations’ choices becoming more impactful in the e-commerce marketplace every passing year. 

According to ManpowerGroup, 2020 was the first year that Millennials made up more than a third of the world’s workforce, many of whom are driving the green trend. A third of all purchases in 2020 were made by Millennials, and the majority of this generation are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.

So, how can e-commerce businesses become more sustainable?



One way that Gen Z and Millennial consumers are tackling waste is by buying up-cycled products. When it comes to fashion consumers, 38% have actively switched from a preferred brand to one that stands for eco-responsibility. Although most opt for one of the many start-ups championing sustainability, the big brands are slowly but surely playing catch-up.

H&M has launched up-cycling initiatives in order to be more environmentally friendly and appeal to their consumer’s needs. One of these initiatives allowed consumers to hand in unwanted clothes to be re-sold at a cheaper price.


Following the Covid-19 pandemic, online orders sky-rocketed and, consequently, so did the packaging they were in. This is something that consumers are aware of (and wary of), and mitigating wasteful packaging is one way that e-commerce businesses can be sustainable.

Non-plastic packaging is becoming much more popular and cost-effective than ever before, and this small change could make a huge impact on the environment and sales.


No free returns

It may seem counterintuitive, but not offering free returns may be good for your business in the long run. Many eCommerce sites offer free returns as consumers are likely to purchase multiple options and return what they dislike. 

By prioritising guaranteed purchases in this way, businesses are affecting the environment in a huge way. Investing in the long-term goals of your business and its sustainability by removing this service would greatly reduce a brand’s impact on the world, appealing to younger generations in the long run.

Be descriptive

One really simple way to improve your business’ sustainability is to improve your product descriptions. Providing specific product descriptions and sizes will mitigate consumers returning unwanted goods, which then reduces unnecessary shipping and improves your business’ carbon footprint.

Some fashion ecommerce businesses are even taking this one step further, implementing AR try-on ads so that consumers know exactly what they’re buying before they buy it!


Sustainable shipping

Another way to improve sustainability through your shipping options is by communicating to your customers how Express Shipping is bad for the environment. 

If consumers are educated on the means of which their products get to them, they can make informed decisions at checkout. Of course, there will be consumers that want next-day delivery, but there is a growing segment that will pay more for eco-friendly shipping.

Here are a few green shipping solutions:

  • GoGreen
  • DPD Green
  • UPS Carbon Neutral Parcel Service

Communication = Change

Finally, the best way to become sustainable is to talk about it. 

As digital trends come and go, the one factor that drives them towards becoming global habits is communication. Would recent political movements have been so successful without social media’s digital word-of-mouth? Would the ongoing roadmap get us out of lockdown be so influential without the ever-present spread of information? 

Well, we won’t change the ecommerce norm without talking about sustainability in online businesses and how we strive to implement better practices. Talk with your audience, your customers, your team members, other brands, and whoever may be listening about how we can move forward towards a greener future, together.

Are you making any of these changes already? If not, it’s time. Not only for your business and your customers but for your planet.

Chris Thomas


Chris Thomas

CEO & Founder

Chris has been at the forefront of eCommerce and a pioneer of online retailing since the early 00s. A 5-time Drapers Award winner, Chris has extensive experience in developing fashion brands online.

Chris founded Cake in 2016. Based in Birmingham, with offices nationwide, Cake specialises in helping fashion brands understand their market online and then helps to develop appropriate strategical direction to achieve their plan, all backed by his 20 years of operating in the retail market.