Retail is almost inextricably at odds with environmentalism. When we buy new iPhones every year, and refresh our wardrobes continually just to keep up with the latest trends, we inevitably contribute to one of the great problems of modernity, the impact of mass production on the planet.
So how can we have our cake and eat it? How can global ecommerce and environmental sustainability mesh harmoniously?
As with all macro issues like the environment, politics etc: one person can only do so much. And it can be easy to assume a 'persona of forlorn indignance' in the face of such grandiose tasks - what difference is that one extra plastic bag going to make? My recycled baked bean can isn’t going to save the polar ice caps, is it? No, of course not - we can’t change the world by ourselves, but we can effect change collectively. As a well-known UK supermarket giant once put it, every little helps.
The following are just a few little suggestions for those who want to shop more sustainably:
Seek out retailers who emphasize sustainability
Ethical and sustainable ecommerce is a rapidly expanding niche in retail. From brands who’s whole MO is sustainability such as Shea and Eileen Fisher, to more household names such as Adidas and Fjällräven who have made explicit their green ambitions, building a brand around sustainability is no longer a crutch for profitability.
Organisations such as the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the Ethical Fashion Forum and the Common Objective Platform are dedicated to improving environmental standards in the fashion industry, and provide extensive listings of retailers meeting those standards.
It’s unsurprisingly now commonplace for large brands and retailers to give something back via environmental CSR campaigns. The cynics among us may argue that such campaigns are merely PR stunts, but that doesn’t diminish the positive outcomes of these projects.
A recent example comes from cosmetics retailer Lush, who in January opened a Manchester store totally devoid of plastic packaging, which as of writing appears to be the only such store from any major retailer in the UK. The concept is achievable in the most part becuase of Lush’s product line that contains items such as solid shower gel and solid deodorant.
Whilst this level of plastic eradication may not be achievable for retailers in other industries, there are other transferable ideas to be taken from Lush’s previous campaigns, which include offering customers free gift items if they return plastic pots to stores. This method of incentivised eco-marketing is fairly new to the UK, particularly in contrast with many European countries, where such attitudes have been covertly embedded over recent years. Germany, for example, is one of 38 countries with a nationwide scheme for returning plastic bottles at supermarkets and convenience stores in exchange for cash (25 cents per bottle). Through this implementation, Germany has improved recycling rates for PET plastic bottles to 99%. The UK (currently recycling only 43% of PET bottles) is now actually slowly adopting this same initiative, with a trial at supermarket Iceland last year recycling over 300,000 bottles.
Shop locally (even online)
Much of being a sustainable shopper is about being an informed shopper. Many people are more than happy to shop sustainably, but simply lack the knowledge of how to do so (or perhaps lack the willpower to gain the knowledge…). Regardless there are resources out there that can help, Near St for example is a great tool that can tell you where you might find an item you need in a nearby store.
Platforms such as Shopify, WordPress, Etsy etc have made it easier than ever for anybody to get selling online (Shopify alone has over 500,000 active online stores), and having a physical storefront in an urban centre is no longer a prerequisite for retail success (quite the opposite in fact). In this day and age your local upholsterer may be more local than you think. Instead of always taking the easy route via Amazon or Google Shopping, next time you need that last minute birthday gift why not take a quick gander on Etsy for retailers near you. Shopping locally can mean a more environmentally friendly delivery as well as of course helping businesses in your community thrive!
While you may find a beautiful online boutique offering ship from store within your own post code, there’s also the other side of the coin - complex retail supply chains that send your parcel through 2 warehouses and a sorting facility at opposite ends of the country before getting it to you.
This is where we at Parcelly are trying to step in and provide solutions. Through our hyper-local warehousing projects we’re putting retailer products nearer the end-consumer, by utilising redundant space in our nationwide PUDO location network. The result is single vehicle consolidated shipping into urban areas, with the last-mile supported by on-demand bicycle, motorbike and electric vehicle couriers, and an overall net reduction in delivery vehicle mileage and emissions.
(And btw we also donate up to 5% of the price of each Parcelly booking to our long-term partner Atmosfair to offset CO2 emissions!)
Support Green Delivery Methods
Ok, so your choice of retailer will more often than not predetermine your choice of courier, but for those occasions where you’re in control, think green. If a retailer offers you flexible options returning an item, consider dropping it in-store or to a PUDO location, or even using an environmentally friendly courier to carry out the return. In London couriers such as Gnewt Cargo have been operating a 100% electric vehicle fleet for 10 years, and other players are following suit. DPD recently announced that their entire Hamburg fleet would be electric by Summer 2019.
There are also a growing number of on-demand couriers utilising bicycles, particularly in urban areas. Stuart, Quiqup, StreetStream, Urb-It and a whole network of bicycle couriers across the UK (http://federation.cyclelogistics.eu/) all offer environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional gas-guzzling haulage.
So whilst there’s no easy way as an online shopper to “go green”, there are a number of ways to be a more eco-friendly shopper. Parcelly to date has offset more than 140tons of CO2 emissions and we firmly believe that receiving, returning and sending parcels should be simple, convenient and above all sustainable, making an impact one parcel at the time...
David Chauvin, Client Experience Lead