Are Online Shops Climate Sinners? How You Can Sell Sustainably

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

Do you already have an online shop or would like to sell online? But you still want to act sustainably? Easier said than done. We'll look at the most important tips on how to better combine online shopping and climate protection.

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.

Every single order consumes resources, from logistics to packaging to transport. Not to mention the returns accumulating in webshops, in some cases up to 30 percent or more of orders are returned. We consumers also face a dilemma: can we protest with and support Fridays for Future, and at the same time shop online and stream every series on Netflix & Co.? These somehow don't fit together.

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 stores - how does that work?

More and more webshops are claiming to be as sustainable as they possibly can be. For small shops in particular, this is a good way to stand out from the crowd and be able to compete with giants like Amazon and Zalando. You're doing some positive for the environment and, at the same time, you're increasing your sales in the niche market.

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

  • Sustainable products: An ideal situation is, of course, if you sell goods that are in themselves environmentally friendly. Or you support sustainability - for example in the area of upcycling and second-hand goods. You should still also pay attention to the additional levers in this list, however.
  • Offsetting CO2 emissions: Even some giants like Zalando now allow customers to make an optional contribution per order to compensate for the resulting CO2 emissions. The fee for this currently stands at 0.25 euro. You should clearly explain, however, how the fee is calculated and what it will be used for.
  • Green shipping: Service providers such as DHL GoGreen offer sustainable shipping solutions for an additional fee. Check what your service providers are offering very carefully. If they come under criticism, then this will also rub off negatively on your company.
  • Shipping costs: Charge shipping costs that correspond to the actual resource costs. A minimum order value (caution: legal guidelines) or only allow free shipping for higher value orders. This way you encourage your customers to bundle their orders together as much as possible.
  • Packaging material: Don't just pay attention to using green raw materials and supply chains for the products you sell. Using a giant cardboard box with a huge amount of plastic filling material to ship a small product? This is how the big shops irritate their customers. Please don't repeat their mistake.
  • Sensible handling of returns: Even politicians are now getting involved in the issue of returns waste and trying to reduce it. Find a sensible use for returns - sell them as B-goods in your shop or donate them to a good cause. Clarify in advance what is legally possible.
  • Supply chains: Choose your suppliers, vendors, labels, partners, and brands according to their environmental approach. You can also use this fact for advertising, for example by reporting about it in your blog or shop magazine. Open communication is good for 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 levers above you can adjust in your shop, the higher you can aim in terms of sustainability. Be careful with measures like CO2 offsetting or green shipping that you're not accused of simply Greenwashing your image. Don't make any claims you can't keep. Sustainability thrives on transparency and authenticity. Fortunately, anything else won't stand the test of time.

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.

The green aspect of your shop is particularly credible when you also act responsibly behind the scenes. Just like we do at RAIDBOXES. In addition to our Green Hosting with carbon offsetting, we're gradually implementing a corporate philosophy that focuses on sustainability in all areas. This philosophy includes the following points:

  • Goals that don't focus on maximizing profits, but on the benefits for our customers and society. See our vision on the topic in our article on Open Source and Equal Opportunities.
  • Environmentally conscious products and materials for our office and sustainable food for our employees
  • Employee participation programmes and the concept of Holacracy. Support of home office and remote work.
  • Team fundraising activities, for example for disadvantaged families.
  • Internal workshops, for example on Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

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

Note: You want to build a similar corporate culture and have questions about it? Feel free to put 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: Instead of ordering from marketplaces like Amazon. This often only takes a few seconds of research on Google. Hopefully, the shop operators will make good use of the commissions they're not paying to a third-party. You'll also be doing something for the retail store that shop operators might run parallel to their online shops.
  • Things you don't need right away: Write lists and then have all the items sent at once. Or order your items in higher quantities.
  • Sustainable aspects: When shopping online, consider all the points mentioned above for merchants. Think about green shipping, carbon offsetting, shipping costs, packaging material etc.
  • Avoiding carbon guzzlers: We shouldn't just cling to the SUV as the one symbol for sins against the environment. Goods that need to be cooled continuously are best bought in the local supermarket.
  • Eco-label: What verifiable sustainable criteria does a product meet? And how stringent are the controls? Be careful with labels and statements you can't find much information on. Or even ones the operator has created themselves.

Pay attention to transparency. The more a manufacturer reveals about their products, the better. What are the products made of or what are the ingredients? Where did they come from? How is the supply chain structured? Who in the company checks compliance with the criteria and how often? Shops like the avocadostore report regularly on how they are in close contact with their suppliers:

Sustainable Blog
The avocadostore sustainability blog

Shop operators are legally required to provide detailed information about their products including the constituents. If you don't adhere to these regulations, a legal warning may be issued. You can find out more about this in our article how to make WooCommerce legally compliant.

WordPress and sustainability

Can there be a sustainable internet? How "green" are WordPress and WooCommerce? Exactly what developers and users can do on an individual level is the topic in our article WordPress and sustainability. Do you run an online shop yourself? Then make your service providers and freelancers realize that every line of source code saved makes a great contribution to protecting the environment.

Danny - the developer behind Mailchimp for WordPress - shows us 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

Have as a few plugins as possible for WordPress & WooCommerce, reduce- HTML, CSS and JavaScript, use optimized image formats like WebP,  have server-side Caching - there are endless possibilities to reduce network traffic and conserve energy resources.

Use #GreenHosting

"If the internet were a country, it would have the sixth largest power consumption on our planet" - this is how the situation was described in a recent documentary. We at RAIDBOXES ensure 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 beginning. After all, we are the first climate-positive WordPress host in Europe, probably even worldwide.

Tip: Do you develop WordPress or WooCommerce sites for your customers? Then host now green and free of charge - with our FREE DEV Program. Also receive 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 put a lot of effort into finding a carbon offsetting partner with added value. We work with Eden Reforestation Projects (short: Eden). The non-profit organization works in regions that are particularly affected by climate change and global deforestation.

we plant a tree
Workers of Eden Reforestation Projects

Eden relies on local residents or workers for its projects, which are paid for by the donations. The organization thus makes an active contribution to the fight against poverty. You want your actions to benefit the common good and migrate to a sustainable hoster specialized in Wordpress ? You're concerned about having a smooth migration? Our support team is there to help you migrate your site.

What's your opinion on green shopping? Do you have any questions about sustainable online shops? Feel free to use the comment function. Do you want to be informed about new articles on WordPress and sustainability? Then follow us on Twitteror Facebook , or subscribe to our newsletter.

Picture: Lacey Williams

Related articles

Comments on this article

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with * .