Are Online Shops Climate Sinners? How You Can Sell Sustainably

Michael Firnkes Last updated 21.10.2020
7 Min.
recycle
Last updated 21.10.2020

You have an online shop or like to shop online? And you still want to act sustainably? That's not so easy. We list the most important tips on how online shopping and climate protection can be better combined.

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has donated billions for the environment and this news has dominated the headlines in recent days. Far less attention was paid last year to the following announcement: In the USA, Amazon Prime has now started delivering items with a price of less than one dollar - without shipping costs. The question is whether any billion-dollar donation can outweigh the environmental impact of this action. This doesn't feel like sustainable selling.

Because every single order consumes resources: from logistics to packaging to transport. Not to mention the returns that accumulate in webshops - in some environments up to 30 percent and more. So we consumers are also in a dilemma: running or sympathising with Fridays for Future, and at the same time shopping online or streaming every series on Netflix & Co? That doesn't really mix.

Food Online
Amazon also delivers food free of charge

According to their own statements, companies such as Amazon are working to compensate for their enormous CO2 consumption. Compensating for every single individual bottle of shampoo ordered in a climate neutral way? Even if this were possible, it would take very long time to achieve. So what can you do right now? As a shop operator or as a consumer?

"Green" online shops - how does it work?

More and more web shops are declaring themselves to be as sustainable as possible. Especially for smaller shops, this is a good way to stand out from the crowd. And to be able to compete against Amazon, Zalando etc.. You do good with it, at the same time you increase your sales in the niche.

As an online shop, the following levers help you, at least in some part, to work for and not against the environment:

  • Sustainable products: The best argument, of course, is if you sell goods that are inherently green. Or support sustainability - for example in the area of upcycling and second hand. Nevertheless, you should also pay attention to the following points.
  • Offset CO2 emissions: Even big names like Zalando now offer an optional additional fee per order to offset the CO2 emissions generated. Currently it is 25 cents there. However, you should explain to your customers exactly how the amount comes about and what it is used for.
  • Green shipping: Service providers such as DHL GoGreen offer sustainable shipping solutions for an additional fee. Check the offers of your service providers very carefully. If they come under criticism, this will rub off on your company.
  • Shipping costs: Charge shipping costs that correspond to the actual resource expenditure. A minimum order value (caution: legal requirements) or free shipping only from a higher order total are further mechanisms to ensure that your customers make their purchases from you as collectively as possible.
  • Packaging materials: Don't just look for green raw materials and supply chains in the products themselves. A giant cardboard box with a ton of plastic filler for a manageable product? That's what the big stores can use to annoy their customers. Please don't you too.
  • Sensible handling of returns: Even politicians are now trying to prevent wasteful returns. Find a sensible use for returns, sell them as B-goods in the shop or donate them to a good cause. Clarify in advance what is legally possible.
  • Supply chains: Select your suppliers, vendors, labels, partners, and brands based on how they treat ecology. You can also advertise this, for example by reporting on the shop in your blog or magazine. Open communication looks good on your online shop.

Creative approaches are also popular. For example, you could reward regular customers with a bonus system for placing small orders less frequently and instead bundling the items together for larger orders. Or you allow the shopping cart to be updated a day after the order is placed or right up until it's ready to ship. The reality is that customers do often forget an item or two when placing an order.

No greenwashing please

The more of the levers just mentioned apply to your shop, the better. Be careful with methods like CO2 offsetting or green shipping that you are not accused of greenwashing. Don't claim something you can't live up to. Sustainability thrives on transparency and authenticity. Fortunately, anything else won't work in the long run.

Tip: You should make your sustainable actions public. Include them on your "Our Mission" page or highlight your approach regularly in your blog. These pages and topics are among the most popular on every website. When these pages are personalized to your business, you can really measure the effect the image boost has on your sales.

Your green shop is particularly credible if you also act mindfully behind the scenes. Just like we do at RAIDBOXES. In addition to compensating for our GreenHosting, we are gradually implementing a corporate philosophy that focuses on sustainability in all areas. This includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Goals that do not focus on profit maximization, but on the benefits for our customers and society. See our vision on the topic of open source and equal opportunities.
  • Environmentally conscious products and materials for our office and sustainable food for our employees
  • Employee stock option programs and the concept of Holacracy . Support for home office and remote work.
  • Team fundraising activities, for example for disadvantaged families.
  • Internal workshops, for example on non-violent communication (GFK).

We'll continue to work on fulfilling our social responsibility. And we hope the models mentioned here will inspire others to act too. 

Note: Want to build a similar company culture, and have questions about it? Feel free to ask them in the comments. Or contact us at any time.

RB Team
Our employees support sustainability at RAIDBOXES

Opportunities for consumers

We, as consumers, hold great power. But we're often just not aware of it. For example, you can support local shops wherever possible. Order books and similar goods from the bookshop around the corner, if there is still one in your town. This strengthens the local economy, supports small traders and jobs, and saves resources in shipping. At the same time, your mindful action helps to work against community areas and high streets dying out.

Strengthen small labels and boutiques in town centers. Ideally, those who deliberately select their suppliers according to transparent criteria. Your favorite products are only available online? You don't want to travel every time to buy something? You also have a choice online: 

  • Order directly from the online shop: And not from its marketplace account of Amazon or similar marketplaces. This often costs only a few seconds of research on Google. Hopefully, the shop operators will use the commissions they earn wisely. In addition, you do something for the shop, which the shop owners run parallel to the webshop.
  • Things you don't need right away: Write them down on lists. Then you can have them shipped all at once. Or order higher quantities right away, for your supplies.
  • Sustainable aspects: When shopping online, consider all the points I mentioned above for retailers. So green shipping, CO2 compensation, shipping costs, packaging material, etc..
  • Renouncing CO2 guzzlers: The SUV is not the only symbol for sins of kima. Goods that need to be refrigerated all the time, for example, are better bought at the local supermarket.
  • Eco-label: What verifiable sustainable criteria does a product meet? And how strongly are these controlled? Be wary of labels and claims about which little can be found out. Or which the retailer has even created himself.

Also, look for transparency. The more a manufacturer reveals about its products, the better. What ingredients are included? Where do they come from? How is the supply chain structured? Who in the company checks compliance with the criteria and how often? Shops such as avocadostore regularly report on how they are in close contact with their suppliers:

Sustainable Blog
The blog about sustainability from avocadostore

For shop owners, by the way, numerous details on ingredients etc. are mandatory. Obligatory. Otherwise you may be threatened with a warning. You can find out more about this in our articleWooCommerce .

WordPress and sustainability

Can there be a sustainable internet? And how "green" are WordPress and WooCommerce? What developers and users can do in detail is the subject of our article on WordPress and sustainability. Do you run an online shop yourself? Then force your service providers and freelancers to realize that every saved line of source code makes a big contribution to environmental protection.

Danny van Kooten - the developer behind Mailchimp for WordPress - gives a drastic example:

Just last week I reduced global emissions by an estimated 59,000 kg CO2 per month by removing a 20 kB JavaScript dependency in Mailchimp for WordPress . There's no way I can have that kind of effect in other areas of my life.

As few as possible Plugins for WordPress & WooCommerce, reduce HTML, CSS and JavaScript, optimized image formats such as WebP, server-side caching - there are countless ways to save traffic on the net. In order to conserve energy resources.

Use #GreenHosting

"If the internet were a country, it would have the sixth largest electricity consumption on the planet" - this is how a ZDF documentary describes it. We at RAIDBOXES ensure in our very own way that online shops with WordPress and WooCommerce run as environmentally friendly as possible. Green hosting has been a matter close to our hearts from the very beginning. It is not for nothing that we are the first climate-positive WordPress web host in the German-speaking world, probably even worldwide.

Tip: You develop WordPress or WooCommerce-sites for customers? Then host green and free of charge - with our FREE-DEV program. Get up to 1.500 € commission per new customer.

For each WordPress site that you host with us, we'll plant a tree for you. Thanks to our customers, we were able to donate almost 30,000 trees in 2019 alone.

We spent a long time researching to find a partner who could provide added-value carbon offsetting. We work together with Eden Reforestation Projects (Eden for short). The non-profit organization works in regions that are particularly suffering from climate change and global deforestation.

we plant a tree
Workers from Eden Reforestation Projects

In its projects, Eden relies on the local inhabitants or workers who are paid from the donations. The organization thus makes an active contribution to the fight against poverty. You want to do good and go to a sustainable web hosting migrate , which is specialized inWordPress ? Are you worried whether the migration of WordPress will run smoothly? Our support team will help you.

What is your opinion on "Green Shopping"? What questions do you have about sustainable online shops? Feel free to use the comment function. You want to be informed about new articles on WordPress and sustainability? Then follow us on Twitter, Facebook or via our newsletter.

Contributed photo: Lacey Williams

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