Sustainability wins for your back-end operations

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Meeting modern consumer expectations goes beyond just providing great products and services. Consumers now expect a commitment to environmental and social causes, which can yield substantial rewards for brands. 

According to McKinsey & Company, incorporating sustainability into operations and supply chain management not only enhances resilience and efficiency but also leads to potential cost savings of up to 20%.

While revamping ecommerce branding around sustainability is crucial, it is just the beginning. To unlock the full benefits of sustainability, brands must transform their back-end operations. 

This article explores how embracing sustainability can pave the way for success in a changing world. By adopting sustainable practices, brands can not only improve their environmental impact but also create new revenue streams and identify areas for enhanced efficiency and reduced costs.

Here are four small steps you can take for some significant sustainability wins:

#1: Embrace eco-friendly delivery and fulfillment

Embracing eco-friendly delivery and fulfillment options is a win-win scenario — it allows companies to balance their environmental impact with cost savings in the supply chain.

Typically, when customers order multiple items, each item is shipped separately from different warehouses, leading to fragmented deliveries. A more eco-friendly and cost-effective solution would be to offer customers the choice to consolidate shipments

This not only reduces the environmental footprint but also optimizes costs. Then, businesses just need to figure out the cheapest ways to ship large packages

A noteworthy example of this approach is demonstrated by SimpleSwitch, a company that implements slower consolidated shipping practices:


Source: SimpleSwitch

Surprisingly, an astounding 71% of shoppers opted for slower shipping methods when they were shown the number of trees it could save. Similarly, you can promote slower delivery options through a visible eco-friendly icon accompanied by a simple explanation, effectively encouraging environmentally conscious choices. 

Additionally, it is essential to educate customers about the most environmentally friendly choice when they require items urgently. In this case, store pickup emerges as an excellent alternative. By choosing store pickup, customers can minimize the carbon footprint associated with delivery, as it eliminates the need for additional transportation. 

Businesses can further reduce carrier transport miles by shipping orders for home delivery from nearby store locations, thereby enhancing the eco-friendliness of the overall process.

#2: Minimize returns and work on the reverse supply chain

Returns not only impact a company's bottom line but also take a toll on the environment. Consequently, preventing returns is a surefire way to reduce your brand’s environmental footprint. You can prevent returns by:

  • Providing comprehensive product details upfront to help shoppers choose the right items from the start. 
  • Leveraging technologies like AR/VR to help customers visualize products before making a purchase. Warby Parker’s AR try-on app is a great example of that.
  • Setting up live chat support, how-to videos, setup manuals, and technical specifications so the customers have all the information they need before buying.

Warby Parker

Source: Warby Parker 

Despite your return policy and prevention tactics, it’s impossible to completely eliminate returns. The best way forward is to simultaneously work on making your reverse supply chain as eco-friendly as possible by:

  • Allowing customers to return items without packaging or labels to reduce waste.
  • Utilizing reusable totes or containers for returning items instead of single-use packaging.
  • Consolidating returns to minimize transportation miles and carbon emissions.
  • Implementing processes to recycle or refurbish returned items to reduce waste and promote reuse.
  • Collaborating with eco-friendly logistics companies for greener transportation options.

#3: Incentivize sustainable options

Don't just stop at offering sustainable options; actively incentivize customers to embrace them through well-crafted promotions and a cohesive sustainable marketing strategy.


Source: Patagonia

Take Patagonia's Worn Wear program for example. The program encourages customers to repair and reuse their garments instead of buying new ones. To support this initiative, Patagonia provides repair services and guides, while also offering incentives such as store credits or discounts for customers who bring in their used items.

The impact of this program is twofold. First, it fosters a culture of sustainability and responsible consumption among Patagonia customers, reducing overproduction and minimizing waste. 

Second, it generates significant cost savings for the company. By emphasizing repair and reuse over replacement, Patagonia effectively reduces the need for manufacturing new items and maintaining large inventories. This, in turn, leads to reduced manufacturing and inventory costs, contributing to improved operational efficiency and financial sustainability. 

Additionally, the program strengthens customer loyalty and brand reputation, leading to increased customer retention and new customer acquisition.

By following Patagonia's example and implementing similar programs, businesses can effectively incentivize their customers to embrace sustainable practices while simultaneously reaping the benefits of reduced costs, improved brand reputation, and increased customer loyalty.

#4: Adopt transparency in the supply chain

Modern-day consumers are no longer satisfied with performative sustainability; they seek tangible proof that products are ethically sourced and made. In response, businesses must prioritize transparency throughout their operations, from sourcing to distribution.

A notable example of a brand dedicated to transparency is Seventh Generation. This brand goes above and beyond by providing comprehensive information on their website regarding their ingredient sourcing, environmentally friendly packaging choices, and relevant certifications.

Moreover, Seventh Generation releases detailed impact reports, showcasing their progress towards predefined sustainability goals. By openly sharing this information, the brand establishes trust and empowers consumers to make informed choices aligned with their values.

Seventh Generation

Source: Seventh Generation

While implementing ethical sourcing practices and being transparent about them may involve upfront costs, it also establishes a strong foundation for sustainable growth, customer loyalty, and financial success.

Moving forward: building a future-proof ecommerce brand

In recent years, consumers and businesses alike have acknowledged the global sustainability challenges within supply chains. This has prompted a shift towards prioritizing sustainability in back-end operations. 

Today, sustainability in the supply chain is no longer an option but a necessity. Businesses that will manage their supply-chain impact will reap cost saving benefits and an improved brand image for the future.

With the anticipated increase in consumer spending, now is the time to take actionable steps and build a future-proof ecommerce brand well-suited for generations to come.


This article was written by Alex Selwitz, the Director of SEO for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and digital marketing. In his free time, Alex enjoys playing guitar and learning about new trends in the digital world.