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Uzņēmējiem - 2021 04 12
ecommerce | sustainability

E-commerce challenge: how to package and deliver goods in an environmentally friendly way

E-commerce challenge: how to package and deliver goods in an environmentally friendly way Photo: Agenlaku Indonesia, Unsplash

Sustainability principles are also gaining importance in the e-commerce environment. A company that aligns its daily actions with these principles not only communicates to its customers and the public that it cares about the future of our planet, but often also saves resources and can work more efficiently by using more environmentally friendly solutions.

E-commerce growth – new risks for the environment

For some time now, we have been living in a new reality where the growth of e-commerce has taken a steep leap in a short period of time, and experts estimate that even after the pandemic, people will not return to their previous habits but will continue to shop online.

This perspective raises the question of how to ensure that e-commerce, which involves corporate chains and large resources, develops sustainably and not only meets customer expectations but also dynamically addresses the environmental challenges associated with the delivery of goods. This question was also one of the main topics at the Baltic e-commerce conference held in March.

Online shopping platforms are just one of the e-commerce environments, while most of the processes take place in the real world. It is not uncommon for goods to travel several long distances across country and city borders before reaching the end consumer. Therefore, any business that decides to go through any of the stages of e-commerce should ask itself a serious question - how can I get my work done with the least impact on the planet.

How to ensure the sustainable delivery of goods

One of the biggest challenges in sustainable e-commerce lies in the delivery of goods, i.e., logistics. As the volume of purchases increases, so does the volume of delivery vehicles and delivery trips. This in turn increases the risks of environmental pollution.

International logistics company Itella, which has its roots in Finland, has set itself a firm and very mindful goal of reducing CO2 emissions to zero by 2030 in all the countries in which it operates. To this end, the company has developed an ambitious programme based on responsibility and a long-term mindset.

Itella was once the first company in Finland to use electric cars for deliveries. However, the company estimates that the use of electric cars and biogas can only contribute to achieving half of the set goal. Therefore, the company has implemented the sustainability approach at all levels – from energy efficiency measures on the premises to the formation of packaging reuse points.

Noomi Jägerhorn, sustainability director at Posti OY tells that to achieve its big goal, the company has developed a four-step action hierarchy. It starts with the “avoid” step, i.e., if an environmentally harmful activity can be completely avoided, the company will do so.

If the first step cannot be fully implemented, then the “reduce” steps will be taken to minimise the harmful effects. This is followed by the “replace” step, i.e., implementing better alternatives. And the last is the “offset” step, which means that if one of the harmful activities cannot be reduced or replaced, the company must compensate for it by taking other measures to promote sustainability.

As N. Jägerhorn points out, transportation is only one stage in implementing e-commerce, whereas the sustainability mindset must be applied to the entire process. She points out that in the lifecycle of a staple T-shirt, 83% of emissions occur directly in the production process, so responsible transportation alone will not solve the problem.

It is also important to talk to customers and contractors about how they can incorporate more sustainable habits into their routines. It follows that it is very important for businesses that offer goods online to choose counterparties that have the sustainability mindset. By choosing counterparties that share similar values, an e-commerce company can encourage the spread of green thinking by motivating other companies in the supply chain to rethink their habits.

The goal: the most suitable packaging and the shortest route

Another step that is often associated with environmental risks is the packaging of goods. Companies often package their goods with environmentally harmful materials that cannot be recycled later, and sometimes even something small is packed in a disproportionately large box.

Skrym is a new Swedish logistics technology company founded to solve the problems of setting packaging and logistics channels. It offers a data-driven online system that helps companies automatically determine the most appropriate packaging size for each shipment and also calculates the most cost-effective delivery method, shortening the path from order to delivery.

In addition, according to Skrym’s CEO Jakob Nordfeldt, by reducing the transportation of clean air, the company not only protects the environment, but also provides itself with a better profit margin.

The technology developed by the company also provides accurate emission calculations depending on the mode of transport on each route. “It is important for companies to be completely transparent with customers and choose the most sustainable solution,” says Nordfeldt.

When importing goods, he recommends not relying on manufacturer or supplier information, but measuring the goods yourself, as it is not uncommon for just a few centimeters to make a big difference. “If the packaging does not meet your own requirements and is not environmentally friendly, this should be clarified with the supplier,” he says. “In this way, one company's sustainability standards and compliance with them can encourage the development of new standards in other companies as well.”

E-commerce – a wide field for the work of developers of green innovations

“Companies used to be interested only in business growth, but now they think more broadly –
it is increasingly important that the idea of sustainability permeates every business operation,” says Andra Altoa, SEB Baltic Strategy and customer experience director.

“A green lifestyle is important to many, so consumers naturally look more at companies that are on the same page,” Altoa says. Addressing various environmental challenges also opens up great opportunities for developers of new products and services.

One of the biggest challenges remains environmentally friendly packaging of various everyday goods. Estonian start-up Muent was founded to tackle the problem of toothpaste packaging, because every time toothpaste is used up, its environmentally unfriendly packaging ends up in the trash.

That is why Muent offers its customers an alternative - a glass jar containing 180 toothpaste tablets that can be used to brush your teeth twice a day for 3 months, and when the jar is empty, you can order a supplement. The company also emphasizes that it works with a logistics company that adheres to the principle of CO2 neutrality.

Another sustainable packaging idea comes from the Estonian start-up Woola, which has developed an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bubble wrap from recycled wool processing scraps. Bubble bags made from wool are already available, and a cut-to-size bubble wrap is expected to be available in the near future. The company's spokesperson Anna-Liisa Palatu is convinced that the future of packaging is clearly linked to the possibility of reusing it.

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