Ever wanted to read about how eCommerce fairs against Traditional Commerce? That’s what this guide is all about. We hope reading this will help to inform you about possible consumer behavior and give some assurance that shopping online actually can be a good thing.

The guide is sectioned as follows:

  • How eCommerce reduces Carbon Footprint
  • A Dive into eCommerce Resource Conservation
  • eCommerce Data Centers Shift to Renewables
  • Challenges with eCommerce
  • Why Slow Fashion is the Ideal Pairing

Full Disclosure: We are a company that specializes in selling Merino Wool golf polos. While we have a deep appreciation for sustainable production methods and mindsets, we try to keep this as objective as possible. The structure, methodology, and the actual comparison presented in this guide are based on our independent research and extensive experience.

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How eCommerce reduces Carbon Footprint

In the ongoing global pursuit of sustainability, the reduction of carbon footprint stands as one of  the most important goals. The shift from traditional commerce to eCommerce has emerged as a force in achieving this objective. Here’s how eCommerce significantly contributes to minimizing the carbon footprint:

Streamlined Logistics vs Scattered Buying Behavior

eCommerce optimizes supply chain and logistics operations. By centralizing inventories in strategically located warehouses and employing data-driven algorithms for efficient route planning, online retailers drastically reduce the need for multiple physical stores. This consolidation minimizes transportation needs, leading to decreased fuel consumption and, consequently, lower carbon emissions.

Energy-Efficient Warehousing vs Multiple Stores

Modern eCommerce warehouses are increasingly designed with energy efficiency in mind. Utilizing natural light, advanced insulation, and energy-efficient appliances, these facilities minimize electricity consumption. Additionally, some eCommerce giants have begun integrating renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, further reducing their carbon footprint associated with energy usage.

Digital Transactions & Docs vs Old Fashioned Paper Work

The digital nature of eCommerce minimizes the need for physical receipts, invoices, and paper documentation. Transactions occur electronically, reducing the demand for paper production and minimizing deforestation. Moreover, the digitization of administrative processes significantly reduces the carbon emissions associated with paper manufacturing and transportation.

Eco-Friendly Packaging Solutions 

eCommerce companies are increasingly adopting eco-friendly packaging materials. From recyclable cardboard to biodegradable plastics and innovative packaging designs that minimize material usage, these solutions significantly reduce the environmental impact of packaging waste. Additionally, some eCommerce businesses are implementing packaging-free initiatives, further curbing waste and reducing their carbon footprint.

Reducing Return Shipments vs Buy Bulk & Return

eCommerce platforms are implementing advanced technologies like virtual fitting rooms and augmented reality tools, reducing the chances of customers receiving ill-fitting items. Consequently, the rate of returns due to size and fit issues has decreased, leading to fewer shipments and reducing overall transportation-related emissions.

Encouraging Sustainable Consumption

eCommerce platforms enable consumers to make informed and sustainable choices. By providing eco-friendly product labels, certifications, and detailed product information, customers can consciously choose products with lower environmental impact. This awareness leads to a shift in consumer behavior towards sustainable products, ultimately reducing the demand for environmentally harmful goods.

A Dive into eCommerce Resource Conservation

The transition from traditional commerce to eCommerce represents a significant leap toward resource conservation and a more sustainable future. In the realm of digital transactions and online marketplaces, numerous practices and technologies are employed to ensure the conservation of precious resources. Here's how eCommerce actively contributes to resource conservation:

Digital Products and Services

One of the most impactful ways eCommerce conserves resources is through the promotion of digital products and services. From eBooks and software to streaming platforms and online courses, the digital realm eliminates the need for physical production, reducing the demand for raw materials such as paper, plastic, and metals. By embracing digital content, consumers can enjoy a wide array of products without contributing to resource depletion.

Reduction in Physical Infrastructure

Unlike traditional brick-and-mortar stores, eCommerce platforms do not require extensive physical infrastructure like buildings, parking lots, and utilities. This reduction in construction and maintenance significantly conserves resources. Additionally, it helps preserve natural habitats, preventing disruption from urban development and promoting biodiversity and environmental balance.

Efficient Inventory Management

eCommerce businesses utilize advanced technologies such as data analytics and artificial intelligence to optimize inventory management. By accurately predicting demand and adjusting stock levels accordingly, unnecessary overproduction is minimized. This streamlined approach reduces the consumption of raw materials, energy, and water used in manufacturing processes, leading to resource conservation.

Sustainable Packaging Solutions

eCommerce companies are pioneering sustainable packaging solutions. From utilizing recycled and recyclable materials to designing packaging that requires fewer resources, the industry is continuously innovating to reduce its environmental impact. Additionally, some eCommerce platforms are moving towards packaging-free options, further conserving resources and reducing waste.

Extended Product Lifespan

eCommerce platforms facilitate the sale of used and refurbished products, extending the lifespan of goods that might otherwise end up in landfills. By promoting a circular economy where products are reused, repaired, and resold, eCommerce helps conserve resources that would be otherwise used in the production of new items. This practice significantly reduces the demand for raw materials and energy, contributing to resource conservation efforts.

Digitization of Administrative Processes 

eCommerce eliminates the need for paper-based administrative processes. Invoices, receipts, contracts, and communication occur electronically, reducing the demand for paper production. This digital transformation conserves trees, energy, and water resources, making a positive impact on the environment.

eCommerce Data Centers Shift to Renewables

In the digital age, data centers serve as the backbone of the internet, powering the vast array of online services we use daily. As concerns about climate change grow, the energy-intensive nature of data centers has come under scrutiny. However, the industry is responding to these concerns by embracing renewable energy sources, marking a significant step toward a greener future. There are many sources for renewable energy but we will touch on the biggest for readability of this guide. As one of many references: https://www.hostinger.com/blog/renewable-energy-data-centers 

Harnessing Solar Power

Data centers are increasingly turning to solar power as a clean, renewable energy source. Solar panels installed on data center rooftops or nearby solar farms generate electricity from sunlight. This shift reduces reliance on fossil fuels, curbing carbon emissions and minimizing the environmental impact of data center operations.

Embracing Wind Energy

Wind energy is another prominent renewable source adopted by data centers. Wind farms, both onshore and offshore, harness wind power to generate electricity. By investing in wind energy, data centers contribute to the growth of this sustainable industry, promoting the use of a virtually limitless and clean energy source.

Carbon Neutrality and Offsetting

Many data centers are actively working toward achieving carbon neutrality. They invest in carbon offset programs, where they fund projects that reduce or capture an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emissions. By offsetting their carbon footprint, data centers contribute to environmental conservation initiatives, furthering the global transition to a sustainable future.

Challenges with eCommerce

Long Story Short - eCommerce provides a net positive carbon footprint result when compared to traditional commerce, but it’s not without challenges. Addressing these challenges is crucial to ensuring that the digital marketplace aligns with environmental conservation efforts. 

Easy Purchase Process intertwined with Overconsumption

eCommerce encourages a culture of convenience, allowing consumers to order multiple items with the intention of returning those that do not meet their expectations. This practice leads to increased shipping, packaging, and processing of returned items, resulting in unnecessary emissions and waste.

Buy Bulk & Return 

The phenomenon of buying more than you need online and returning the bulk is a problem for eCommerce. It's made possible through the “free returns policy” that many fast fashion sites utilize to lure their customers to more purchases but it defeats the whole sustainable angle of eCommerce vs traditional commerce.

Not only is it bad for sustainability but the increased cost for the counterpart makes it economically non viable. The behavior is countered by the support of informed choices with technological solutions to assist it. Virtual fitting rooms, clear and good size guides etc all help to decrease the return rate.

For instance, H&M,  have now added a return fee to inspire better behavior. Read a The Guardian article about it here: https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2023/sep/19/hm-becomes-latest-retailer-in-uk-to-charge-to-return-items-bought-online 

Why Slow Fashion is the Ideal Pairing

Ecommerce is the greener option when it compares to traditional commerce but it doesn’t address the very problematic aspect of overconsumption of fast fashion. 

Fast Fashion and Overconsumption in Cahoots

The formula is quite easy to digest. Buy an excessive number of unnecessary items with little consideration for the consequential impact. This common behavior leads to the negative footprint that we with much passion try to dissolve. The fast fashion industry, with its frequent trend cycles, often places demands on production facilities, sourcing choices, and workforces, causing companies to prioritize profit over ethical practices. 

Why Slow Fashion is the way to go

Many of us have contributed to the fast fashion industry, but it doesn't have to remain this way. To become a more responsible member of society and improve your own actions, you can start by following some basic guidelines.

We live and abide by the rules: Buy Less, Use More, Wash Less.  Here is a full article on the subject, if you wish to dig deeper. If not, here is the short version:

Buy Less = Buy high-quality products that you genuinely need. Pay close attention to the fabric, and make sure that it gives you comfort, making it your preferred choice over fast fashion items.

Use More = Many pieces of clothing, especially fast fashion items, end up discarded or stashed away in the closet after just a couple of uses. By making informed choices and selecting high-quality clothing pieces, you'll find that you use them more often.

Wash Less = Having the right materials means there's no need for washing after each use. For example, materials like merino wool, known for its excellent moisture-wicking properties, can help reduce body odour, eliminating the need for frequent washing.

When you combine elements such as offering products with longevity due to high-quality materials, ethical production processes within a green value chain, and designs that transcend trends, you create a recipe for responsible purchasing.

For those of you who are well-informed, shop online with a minimal return rate, and follow the principles of slow fashion, we salute your efforts. And for those of you who also consider the sources of materials and the overall sustainability of the companies you engage with, we salute your commitment even more.

Inspired by the below references