Is E-commerce Sustainable?

6 July, 21

With the e-commerce boom showing no signs of slowing down, now accounting for more than one quarter of all retail sales in the UK[1], Southgate, one of Europe’s leading packaging suppliers, reviews the impact and solutions on consumers’ changing attitudes towards sustainable packaging.

The increase in popularity of e-commerce was in play long before Covid-19 struck, but with consumers forced to choose this method over the past 18 months, it has certainly been accelerated beyond what we could have imagined and is set to continue.

This increase in demand has aligned with the ever increasing focus on the environment, which leads to the question – is e-commerce sustainable? Largely consumers shopping via e-commerce want products to be delivered in the quickest and cheapest method possible, prioritising convenience and ‘next day delivery’ options over sustainability, meaning an increase in carbon emissions and plastic packaging – not eco-friendly.

Now, in a shift of consumer mindset, we are seeing a new generation of ‘conscious consumers’ – those that are choosing to shop with brands which they know are sustainable and influencing positive change. A recent global study revealed that consumers are four times more likely to purchase, protect, and champion purpose-driven companies.[2]

Consumers are starting to carefully select the brands they use based on their environmental credentials. In fact, a recent global CSR report confirmed almost 70 per cent of online consumers would or might stop using a brand because of its social or environmental wrongdoing.

With so much importance resting on brands to deliver against their purpose-driven sustainability promises, specifically when it comes to e-commerce, what can they do to increase customer trust and loyalty?

Craig Turner, Managing Director at Southgate Packaging, one of Europe’s leading packing supplier comments: “Firstly, brands must review their supply chain, right from the start to the end user, to proactively seek out opportunities to introduce better or new eco-friendly options. Once complete, they can review where to invest in sustainable practices and find the right partners and suppliers to work with, preferably those which have aligned sustainability goals – all of which will be paramount to keeping consumers on side.

“As a starting point, looking at packaging solutions, there is already a wide range of sustainable products available – at Southgate for example we offer a range of airwave machines which manage the cushion speed, inflation rate and amount needed to minimise wastage – reducing operator time and creating sustainable solutions to void fill. Thereby, containing 98 per cent air cushions using minimal material without compromising on product protection.”

This is just one example of how we can improve sustainability within the e-commerce market. In addition, offering compostable, paper and carbon neutral films will ensure that the consumer can responsibly dispose of packaging waste. Addressing how packaging can be recycled for the end user will also be key in showcasing the importance of sustainability.

Here at Southgate, sustainability product innovation is of the utmost priority. We are consistently striving to offer eco-friendly alternatives to our customers across a wide range of our products. Just recently, we launched our recognition scheme, The Green High Five, to highlight products that offer one or more of five criteria: sustainable, recyclable, reusable, biodegradable and waste reductive. This way businesses can easily choose packaging they know falls within their own sustainability goals and promises to consumers.

One other example of the push for sustainability within the packaging industry is the introduction of the Plastic Packaging Tax (PPT), introduced as a result of the estimated two million tonnes of plastic packaging being used each year. Taking effect from 1 April 2022, the new legislation will see a PPT applied to plastic packaging produced in, or imported into, the UK. Listed in the top five processors of plastic in Europe, the UK will be impacted greatly by the new tax.

Industry and businesses will need to act now to avoid paying tax by ensuring they have a suitable product range available that adheres to the new packaging requirements, in that all packaging must contain 30 per cent recycled plastic.

Looking ahead and reports predict that by 2040 e-commerce will represent over a third of all retail sales – it is imperative that businesses invest now in initiatives that accelerate the development of safer and more sustainable products and services. By leading the way, consumer will too be motivated to continue to make more purpose-driven, sustainable choices in their e-commerce interactions.

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