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7 Ways To Have Sustainable Shipping in Ecommerce

by EasyPost
A person on the phone, holding a package, and writing on a clipboard

The race to carbon neutrality is on—and sustainable shipping plays a large role. In 2019, parcel and freight shipping created 19 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and experts expect those emissions to increase to 25 million tons by 2030.

For many people, reading about the future implications of climate change is uncomfortable. However, real change has to be made quickly to limit temperature increases across the globe. The sooner we start making changes, the more impact we can make.

What exactly is sustainable shipping? How can businesses achieve eco-friendly shipping, especially with limited resources? In this article, we’ll explore steps you can take to bring your business closer to carbon neutrality and answer questions you might have about the process of getting there.

What is sustainable shipping?

Sustainable shipping, or eco-friendly shipping, encompasses any shipping practice that minimizes adverse environmental consequences. This can include practices like reducing carbon emissions during delivery, minimizing packaging waste, and even reducing energy use at fulfillment centers.

For businesses looking to establish eco-friendly processes throughout their supply chain, sustainable parcel shipping is a great place to start!

Why does sustainable shipping matter?

According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, climate change is already here. And the longer we wait to take real, impactful action, the more the impacts of climate change will become irreversible. This is seen through extreme temperatures, weather events, food insecurity, and increased agricultural challenges.

Sustainable shipping matters because there is still time to make a difference. It’s no surprise that the shipping industry impacts the environment, and part of that is due to customer demand for faster transit times. However, there is still value in offering sustainable options, especially if your customers are informed of the impacts of their shopping habits.

Globally, 60% of consumers rate sustainability as an important purchasing factor. Although pricing and product quality continue to be dominant factors for shoppers, some consumers are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. 

Hopefully we’ve convinced you that sustainability in shipping is a big deal for businesses and consumers alike. If so, read on to learn about the changes—some small and others more complex—that you can make to minimize your environmental footprint.

Best practices for sustainable shipping

The need for sustainable shipping is at an all-time high, but where does a business begin? We recommend addressing the biggest pain points, like packaging, transportation emissions, and returns. Here are seven best practices for sustainable shipping to help you get started.

1. Use eco-friendly packaging

Eco-friendly packaging reduces the number of natural resources needed to ship parcels and has a minimal environmental impact compared to traditional packaging. Typically sustainable packaging is made from recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable materials.

What about plastic? Choosing plastic packaging materials isn’t always a bad thing—it’s relatively lightweight, and there are practical recycling options. Just make sure the materials you are using have an accessible and sustainable means of disposal if you go down this route.

Here are some of the most popular eco-friendly packaging materials you may come across that are generally considered sustainable:

  • Previously recycled packaging
  • Plant-based packaging
  • Plantable packaging
  • Compostable plastic packaging
  • Biodegradable plastic packaging

For more specific sustainable packaging techniques, check out the article 5 Sustainable Packaging Techniques You Need to Try.

2. Take advantage of carbon offsets

The excessive release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is one of the leading causes of climate change and an important factor to consider in sustainable shipping. Businesses can purchase carbon offsets to compensate for the carbon emissions caused by shipping and other unsustainable practices.

When businesses purchase carbon offsets, they fund organizations that remove or eliminate carbon emissions to compensate for the amount of carbon they produce through industrial or other means. When you purchase enough offsets to completely counteract the amount of carbon you produce, your business is considered carbon neutral.

Carbon offsets are great for the environment, but they are also a great tool to show customers you care about sustainability without putting added responsibility on their shoulders.

Learn about EasyPost’s free carbon offset program.

3. Minimize packaging materials

Most consumers have had this experience: they order a relatively small item from an online store, and a few days later, a box ten times the size of their item appears on the doorstep. Unfortunately, when they open it up, there’s a good chance the box is filled to the brim with air pillows, and if it isn’t, the product inside is probably damaged.

When minimizing the amount of packaging materials used, a business can save money, prevent package damage, and help the environment at the same time. Less packaging creates less waste while reducing a shipment’s dimensional weight and shipping costs.

Using unnecessarily large packaging materials is nothing short of wasteful. For the most eco-friendly solution, use sustainable materials that properly fit your goods. Your wallet, your customers, and your planet will thank you.

4. Opt for ground shipping

Ground-based shipping is the most sustainable service level. While it is slower than expedited and overnight shipping, some customers are willing to wait if that means they’re helping the environment.

Don’t shy away from informing and educating your customers on how their choices impact the environment. For example, listing carbon emissions next to their respective service levels encourages shoppers to think before choosing.

You could allow your customers to choose the more sustainable option, or you could limit the service levels you offer. Ground shipping is both more affordable and more sustainable, and many customers are willing to wait a few days to receive their package, so why not make this your default shipping option?

Man opening package with child

5. Implement SIOC

SIOC stands for “ships in own container” and is a packaging method that involves shipping an ordered product in its original packaging without any additional wrapping or casing.

For example, if a customer orders a set of headphones, it likely already comes packaged in a cardboard box. So, rather than adding another layer of over-box packaging to ship the product, you can place a shipping label on the existing headphone packaging and send it on its way. 

This is another example of how sustainable shipping can save money since you don’t have to pay for additional shipping materials. Just be wary that SIOC may be more tempting to porch pirates, who keep an eye out for flashy branding on packages. Keep an eye out for this to make sure the problem doesn’t get out of hand and cause you to take unnecessary losses.

6. Encourage customer action

How do people promote sustainable shipping? The most savvy businesses take a two-pronged approach, making their environmental diligence known to customers while also encouraging them to take their own sustainable actions, like reusing packaging materials and recycling. 

Choose packaging that reminds consumers of their options and makes for easily accessible recycling. Thin plastic materials such as air pillows, bubble wrap, shipping envelopes, and bubble mailers are usually not accepted in curbside recycling. However, if you choose to use these materials, it is helpful to suggest ways to reuse them and offer instructions for finding the closest drop-off location for recycling.

7. Optimize your logistics

It’s possible for your shipping to become more sustainable before a package even leaves your warehouse. This can be done by working with a third-party logistics provider (3PL) that puts sustainability at its forefront or tweaking your logistics operations to promote sustainability.

When optimizing your logistics or choosing a sustainable 3PL, you'll want to consider waste reduction, energy efficiency, and automation implementation. In addition, as logistics continues to become a more competitive industry, we hope to see more warehousing operations focusing on sustainability.

Woman putting her credit card information into her phone

FAQs about sustainable shipping

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about sustainable shipping.

What is the most sustainable shipping method?

When it comes to sustainable shipping methods, ground-based shipping is the most sustainable service level. This standard option is typically the most affordable and the slowest, but it produces far fewer emissions compared to expedited and overnight shipping.

What is meant by green logistics?

Green logistics, or eco-logistics, is the practice of taking traditional logistics operations and making them more sustainable by reducing their environmental impact. This can include but is not limited to the processes, systems, design, and equipment used to store and distribute merchandise.

Is it bad for the environment to return merchandise?

Returning merchandise only increases the amount of greenhouse gases released into the environment. Of course, a customer shouldn't be left with an unsatisfactory product. However, preventative action can minimize returns, such as more secure packaging or posting accurate sizing charts on product web pages.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing, or green marketing, is a PR and marketing strategy that misleadingly promotes the levels to which a business, its products, and practices are sustainable for the environment.

As demand grows for more environmentally friendly products, several brands have adopted this deceptive strategy. If a business is truly sustainable, it will likely back up its claims with facts and figures on its website.

Which shipping company is the most environmentally friendly?

In today’s sustainability-focused world, most shipping companies are taking measures to reduce carbon emissions through the use of biofuel, route optimization, and electric vehicle fleets. While it’s impossible to pinpoint the most environmentally friendly organization, we’ll highlight a few major logistics organizations that are helping lead the way to a more sustainable future.

The major domestic carriers, UPS, USPS, and FedEx, have each begun expanding their use of electric and hybrid vehicles and plan to continue adopting these transportation methods. Similarly, DHL is making strides in green shipping with its use of aviation biofuel and electric bicycles. As these carriers reduce the use of fossil fuels, they’ll keep the air cleaner for everyone. 

EasyPost also recognizes the importance of environmentally sound logistics practices. To reflect this, we offer carbon offsets for every package sent through the Shipping API, at no cost to our customers.

Get started with your own sustainable shipping initiatives

EasyPost is committed to helping our users reach their sustainability goals. Our flexible APIs work with a great number of carriers and sustainable partners to provide the most dependable shipping experience.In addition to allowing you to choose sustainable partners, we also provide carbon-neutral shipping at no additional cost. 

Ready to achieve your sustainability goals? Start shipping for free with EasyPost.