A megaphone with flowers and sprouts coming out of it

April marks Earth Month, where we all reflect on our sustainable shopping choices and feel immense existential dread when reading the latest report from climate scientists.

Is the latter half of that sentence just me? Well let’s hold off on the doom and gloom, and instead focus more proactively on the first section—our sustainable shopping choices.  

As a guy who loves to shop online and is a member of the ecommerce community, I’ve picked up on several ways in which both merchants and customers can be more eco-friendly when it comes to online shopping.

Disclaimer: This won’t be a guilt-inducing blogpost. 

I totally recognize how incredibly hard it is to run a successful online business. For merchants just getting off the ground, adding the pressure of making every step of the business process eco-friendly and zero waste is an overwhelming feat. So there is no shame slinging here. 

Instead, the following is just meant to highlight the various ways in which we can make a positive environmental impact as business owners and as online shopping customers. 

I’m a firm believer that if we look for even small ways to change our shopping habits to focus on more sustainable living, then we can make a difference. So to all the merchants reading, see what works for you and your brand. You might be surprised that making some small changes to the way you run your business could lower costs and positively impact your customer lifetime value (more on that later).

And since we are all online customers (and most importantly citizens of the only known habitable planet in our galaxy), let me just stand on my soapbox and declare this just once: Please consider only supporting brands that focus on ethical and sustainable business practices and avoid fast fashion brands or lovers of single-use plastics.

Okay, I’m off the soapbox. Let’s run through some key points to consider when reading through this eco-friendly post.

Key takeaways

  • According to a 2021 Deloitte study, the leading personal concern for Gen Z adults across the globe was “Climate change/protecting the environment”
  • Customers, more than ever, are supporting brands that share their values, so if sustainability is important to your brand share about it in a mission statement
  • You don’t have to adopt all of these eco friendly practices to make a positive impact, look for the ones that make the sense for your business

Packaging waste hurts my soul (and our world)

It finally arrived. That package you ordered last week that you’re so excited to get. It’s arrived in a bigger box than you expected but that’s alright. You set it on the counter, cut open the copious amounts of packing tape (they really secured this thing didn’t they?), and just as you open the box… like a glitter bomb, styrofoam pellets and plastic wrap come bursting out of the package.  

Sound familiar?

Single-use plastics, like those commonly used in packaging, dominate landfills across the world. Consider that the 9.2 billion tons of plastic humans have produced never decays and often ends up improperly disposed of, negatively impacting our ecosystem. At this very moment, 24.4 trillion pieces of microplastics are floating in our oceans impacting marine life and even ending up in our food. 

So, what alternatives can we use to avoid single-use plastics and instead embrace plastic-free packaging to ship products?

Biodegradable packing peanuts are sustainable alternatives to plastic packaging solutions that will protect products while being delivered and not negatively impact the environment. They are often made from naturally derived starches (like wheat and cornstarch) which can be disposed of by dissolving them in water.

While foam peanuts can be deadly to wildlife who consume them, biodegradable peanuts are not harmful to animals even if they’re not dissolved down.

There are also compostable and recyclable packaging materials that are environmentally friendly. Corrugated cardboard, for instance, is versatile and can handle the rigors of the supply chain to protect your products and then be easily recycled after unboxing. 

Meanwhile, compostable containers can be tossed in the green bin where they will break down just like food waste. There are even recyclable shipping labels that use a special adhesive that make them easy to recycle instead of getting thrown in the trash. 

Just make sure to let your customers know what kind of packaging they’re receiving and the best steps to dispose of it, so it doesn’t mistakenly end up as waste.

Reducing your carbon footprint

How do your products get to the door of your customers? Along the way how much CO2 is released as your product travels to its destination? These are important questions to consider when looking to make a positive impact on the environment.

Carbon neutral shipping helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with our climate emergency in a variety of ways, like using green packaging materials, prioritizing non-wasteful shipping routes, and most popularly, by purchasing carbon offsets. 

Carbon offsets are contributions to sustainable development projects (like renewable energy, forestry, or clean water projects) in exchange for credits that offset their carbon emissions. 

Recharge partnered with apps like EcoCart, Corso, and Ecodrive to give merchants opportunities to offer carbon-neutral subscription services directly to their consumers. 

A picture from EcoCart's website showing that customers using their carbon offsetting option have off set over 25 million pounds of CO2 and saved almost 850, 000 trees.
EcoCart allows merchants to empower their customers to make their orders carbon neutral at checkout.

Sustainable brands leading the way

Here are a collection of eco-friendly online stores that are leading the way when it comes to sustainability:

  • Who Gives A Crap: Creators of premium 100% bamboo toilet paper. Bamboo is naturally fast-growing and rapidly renewable, requiring no tending, irrigation, or fertilization as opposed to the more common tree harvested toilet papers
A selection of Who Gives A Crap's products on their website
A variety of the plastic free bamboo products that Who Gives A Crap offers on their website
  • Keap Candles: Keap Candles list the efforts they make to be a zero-waste company (compostable mushroom packaging, biodegradable labels, and reusable glass candle holders) as well as listing where they get their eco-friendly packaging products from for other aspiring eco-friendly merchants
Three pictures from the Keap Candles website of shipping boxes, shipping labels + tape as well as mushroom packaging
Keap Candles lists the specific materials they work with as well as the environmentally friendly ways to dispose of them
  • Bite Toothpaste: Did you know one billion toothpaste tubes are thrown out each year? Bite, the creators of toothpaste bits, are a plastic-free and cruelty-free alternative on a mission to end plastic waste (all while giving you a healthy smile)

Greener future together

We’re by no means sustainability experts but we hope you’re able to take inspiration from some of the sustainable brands and options outlined here. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our climate crisis but even little changes can over time have big impacts on our environment.  

Ultimately, that’s how change occurs—small choices, made by individual people and businesses. Over time, these choices ripple into larger shifts, leading all towards a more sustainable future for the world and the next generations. Remember customers are eager to support brands that share their values so if sustainability is close to your heart, let people know on your website. Happy Earth Month!