This article is the first in an ongoing ethical eCommerce series that we’ll be running every Tuesday throughout the rest of May and June. The focus will be on some of the main areas of online retail that are currently under scrutiny, or experiencing revolution in terms of their ethical and eco-friendly creditials.
These days you’re more likely to be made to feel like a social pariah for plonking a couple of plastic straws in your lemonade than you are for dodging your round at the bar. The fall from grace for single-use plastics has been swift and spectacular. Wasteful packaging is a huge bugbear of the public consumer, with Amazon perhaps most famously coming up against repeated criticism and ridicule for over-the-top deliveries (as well as some pretty elaborate, and officially debunked, theories arising around the topic!)
Despite the occasional iPhone charger rattling around in a box that barely fits through the door, with the launch of their “Frustration-Free” packaging scheme, now over 10 years old, Amazon did take a big step towards more efficient shipping and continue to invest into sustainable packaging innovation. Their “Ships In Own Packaging” program has removed the need for over 305 million delivery boxes.
As consumer awareness continues to rise around this issue, the most highly coveted unboxing experiences of the future will be the ones which show eco-friendly ingenuity. Lush has been ahead of the game for years in this department, offering upcycled silk scarves produced by a women’s cooperative in India for gift wrapping (which become as much a part of the gift itself) and, for a time, packing its delicate bath bombs for postage in popcorn. Recently they’ve gone even further using EcoFlo, a simple starch nugget material, which takes 23% less energy than popcorn to produce. Another cosmetics company making reusable packaging a part of a memorable customer experience, and even their wider brand identity, are Glossier, whose products ship in padded pink zipper pouches that go on to be used and re-used by their proud owners – functioning as a secret signal to those in the know that you’re part of the brand’s cult following. They’re so popular, Glossier even started to sell them as a standalone product – a sign, if ever there was one, that you’re getting your reusable packaging right.
Product packaging is, of course, about more than just shipping; baking environmental credentials into your product design from the get-go is a huge win both in terms of the planet and your PR department. While Lush have performed something of a magic trick, in making 30 million plastic bottles vanish, Beauty Pie also does a great job of ensuring they address the beauty industry’s landfill. Their laudable packaging policy is highlighted within their FAQ page, stressing the use of plant-based inks and recyclable and recycled board for cartons and packets, the avoidance of metallics and foil and a preference for simple packaging that can be easily broken down for components-based recycling.
The masters, perhaps, are everyone’s favourite meatball peddlars, IKEA – known for their revolutionary approach to optimized package and delivery, and who continue to push for improvement, recently announcing that it will replace Styrofoam packaging with the fully biodegradable, mushroom-based EcoCradle for all its products. Tiny adjustments to packaging design at the outset can lead to surprisingly effective savings, both to the supplier’s pocket and the planet. A marginal adjustment of a pizza box, undetectable to the consumer, meant more efficient deliveries leading to 66,500 miles of transit eliminated annually for one brand.
Even large brands are getting behind the concept, with Procter & Gamble, Unilever, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Danone among the big hitters coming on board for the pilot scheme of Loop, a platform that modernises the milkman, bringing sustainably packaged every day groceries to your door. Online retail is at the heart of this venture; empty containers are collected from the customer’s residence at the same time as their next delivery, meaning a hassle-free, seamless experience, which in turn encourages habitual repeat online ordering, a trend which we’ve seen more and more of in recent times. The real genius is that the system knows, from your empty returns, which products you will require in your next delivery, meaning it’s effectively a subscription service that “manages itself,” reducing the ask of the consumer even further.
For eCommerce businesses regularly shipping out stock, a well-publicised switch to eco-friendly packaging makes sense as soon as logistically possible. If consumer demand continues at this pace then before long plastic-free packaging is almost certain to be the norm, something that is very much expected of a company, as opposed to something perceived to be a value add or cause of increased customer loyalty. For maximum brownie points with Mother Earth and your customer, a clear and eco-positive policy towards packaging and product design is something that should be an increasing priority.
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