Three essential steps towards responsible e-commerce shipping

As the climate catastrophe unfolds, retailers are striving to reduce their emissions and offer transparency around the carbon impact of e-commerce delivery. Soon, legislation could / may make this mandatory, meaning every e-commerce player should think about greener supply chain operations as a matter of urgency.

Currently, brands face a dilemma, because while shoppers say they want greener delivery options, most also expect very fast and convenient delivery of their orders, even when they’ve purchased from overseas companies. A huge part of the attractiveness of e-commerce is that shoppers can acquire unique or competitively priced goods from sellers in other countries. The downside is that air-freight shipping has a significant carbon cost. With 74% of consumers[1] saying low-carbon delivery is desirable, retaining a reputation as a responsible organisation is going to be challenging in the years ahead.

What steps can be taken towards reduced-carbon shipping, and how much greener can the industry hope to go, while still operating profitably?

  1. Choose ‘carbon conscious’ delivery partners

As international online sales grow, trust in the partners retailers choose for shipping, postal and delivery services will be hugely important. Look for logistics partners who are minimising packaging and choosing environmentally-friendly materials for parcels, labels and void fill. Electric vans and e-bicycles are now widely used by last-mile couriers around the world. Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is in development, we are assured by the airlines, although its use at an industrial scale will take time. While progress is being made, an important eco-option in 2022 is carbon offsetting in the supply chain, or ‘climate compensated shipping’. Retailers are seeking out ‘carbon conscious’ shipping companies and couriers who are pro-actively reducing and off-setting their emissions, and building a portfolio of greener services, helping retailers protect their reputation and drive brand loyalty.

Like many players in the e-commerce shipping industry, Asendia has set an ambitious target to neutralise our environmental impacts, and pass that benefit onto our retail clients and their customers around the world. We’ve just announced that, as of January 2022, Asendia offsets 100% of its international transport emissions, including those by our delivery partners, parcel returns, and building and machinery emissions.

This has been achieved by supporting EcoAct verified[2] wind farm projects in India and China. We also offer free advice and waste-saving services such as data cleaning and digitised returns to the retailers we work with, in the knowledge that the more collaborative support we give, the sooner benefits to the environment will filter through.

  • Offer customers green delivery products

There’s growing understanding among consumers that express or next-day deliveries are high carbon options, while slower delivery is kinder to the environment. Asendia’s retail customers are increasingly requesting data on the carbon value of parcel journeys, and are eager for special ‘green delivery’ options, in addition to the fact that all our shipping is offset.

There’s much to learn in the industry, with ongoing discussions about the best certification programmes to commit to, and which scientific calculation is the most reliable and accurate for reporting emissions per shipment. My feeling is that providing end-customers with total visibility is the real value of these calculations. By informing and educating the shopper at home, we’ll empower them to make more climate-friendly decisions.

  • Carbon calculation tools for e-commerce parcels

Calculation of CO2 emissions is based on the shipment’s weight, distance travelled, and mode of transport used – in our case normally air and road freight. We are setting up a solution for shipment data to be extracted from our systems and processed with emission parameters, and the methodology will take into account the Greenhouse Gas Protocol[3] and World Economic Forum’s[4] guidelines for consignment-level carbon reports.

I would urge retailers to educate consumers on the reality of international shipping, encouraging the take-up of slower delivery, and explaining that green delivery is unlikely to be free delivery. Creative ideas will be required from retailers’ marketing departments, weaving environmental values into brand messaging, product development and rewards programmes.

Doing nothing isn’t an option. Carbon reporting legislation will most likely be passed in the next couple of years, forcing retailers to provide full transparency regarding supply chain emissions, alongside waste and energy use metrics.

So, to prepare for potential legal changes, achieve ESG goals and maintain brand loyalty, it’s well worth listening to what customers value, and giving them verified eco-delivery options to choose from. Offering your audience more responsible parcel shipping now is a strategically smart, and very worthwhile commitment to make.


[1] sendcloud.co.uk/sustainable-ecommerce-in-2022/       

[2] https://eco-act.com/service/voluntary-carbon-offsetting/

[3] https://ghgprotocol.org/

[4] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/08/now-time-for-action-on-sustainability-reporting/

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