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An overview of sustainability in e-commerce

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Sustainability in business is not simply a ‘buzzword’ that gets thrown about lightly. For a business to use the term to describe any aspect of what it does, from the supply chain, to the production and delivery of a service or product, it needs to invest time and education in understanding whether or not enough is being done to credit itself as ‘sustainable’.

For an ecommerce business, where the buying and selling of goods is done entirely over the internet, transparency with the ethics of your business plays a vital role in attracting and maintaining loyalty from an-ever growing, eco-conscious market. It is why understanding what you do to be sustainable, and how to make improvements, is not only great for our planet, but can see your ecommerce business maximise profitability too.

Our overview of sustainability in e-commerce aims to provide you with actionable ideas on areas of your business where sustainability can be achieved and inspire you to make positive changes for your consumers and our planet.

Read Time
3 mins
Julia Anukam

Sustainability in e-commerce

When it comes to an e-commerce business, your options for sustainability are usually focused on the supply chain, production and delivery of your product or service. Let’s take a closer look.

Product source

Often, the driving force behind where an e-commerce business chooses to source the product they sell, is the cost. It may be cheaper to bulk buy a product from overseas, even with shipping costs accounted for, and therefore seem like the obvious way to maximise profits. In doing so, you fail to account for the growing conscious of the consumer market to ‘support local’.

Instead of luring customers in with cheaper prices, you risk driving customers away with broken ethics. An ever-growing body of research is showing that actually consumers are preferring to spend more on a product that is locally made or sourced. An increased cost at the source could quite easily be covered by the price you charge, or a greater demand could allow you to sell more of them.

By not shipping from overseas, you reduce the carbon footprint and improve the sustainability of your business.


Of course, the materials used for a product being sold online vary hugely depending on the type of business. If yours is one that uses renewable resources, investing the time in understanding the material and ensuring it is being sourced sustainably is vital.  By doing so, it gives you the opportunity to share the knowledge with your consumer and many e-commerce sites will now dedicate a page to how their materials are sourced sustainably for the consumer to see.

Wood is a prime example of a material that when sourced in the right way, can be showcased to your buyers. If you’re not using renewable materials, could you adapt so that you are, or could you make sure your product is made from materials that are at least recyclable?

Empower yourself with the knowledge behind the materials you use and look for ways to maximise the use of sustainable materials in every aspect. When you do, make sure you sing and dance about all the good you are doing to your consumer!


Once a product has been purchased, you still have a duty of care to your consumer and to the environment to get that product safely and efficiently to their door. Whilst it may seem difficult to do this in an eco-friendly way, especially if shipping abroad or over long distances, a little research into courier firms can help you discover stark differences.  Some couriers are more eco-aware and are making efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the delivery journey. For example, they may be using more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Cardboard box labelled as sustainable packaging

Recycling schemes

Aside from maximising recyclable materials in the actual production of what you sell, it is easy to think that once the product has been bought and delivered, the opportunities for improving sustainability are over. For a product made from recyclable material, it is easy for the customer to play their part, but you could also implement schemes that take recycling one step further. A faulty product or one that has reached the end of its lifecycle for example, may still contain parts that can be used in repairs.

For an e-commerce business, it may seem difficult and inconvenient for a consumer to return items without a physical or local store. You could facilitate this type of recycling by offering collection services, replacement or even offer monetary incentives. By doing so, you minimise the materials from your business that are sent to waste and improve your sustainability credentials.

More often than not, understanding the sustainability of your business can seem overwhelming. So much so, that some businesses opt for offering very little information to the consumer in fear of being wrong, rather than investing the time and efforts in understanding the entire journey of the products or services being sold.

Learn more about Sustainit

Here at Sustainit, with over 40 years of expertise in empowering businesses with the knowledge and ideas to become more sustainable, efficient and profitable, we work closely with you to discover your individual needs. As a family-run business, built on positivity, collaboration and respect, we work closely with each and every-one of our clients, building long-standing relationships from the outset. We are proud to be globally renowned as a sustainability data consultancy firm and are passionate about making data meaningful so that we can drive positive change in the world.

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