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eCommerce

How to Start an Environmentally-Friendly Brand With No Industry Experience

By
Nadia Staikos

By now, it's common knowledge that consumers—especially Millennials and Gen Zs—care about the environmental impact of their actions, including how they spend their money. But how directly does that care translate into sustainable consumption? From 2014-2018, sustainable products had a compound annual growth rate of 20%—four times higher than conventional products, and we predict spending on sustainable products will continue to increase in 2021.


The sustainable product market is growing. According to Nielsen, 73% of global consumers say they would most likely change their habits to reduce environmental impact, and 90% of Millennials are willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly and sustainable products. Millennials are now the largest demographic in the workforce, and it is clear that their increased spending power is driving market changes. Millennials and Gen Zs are also the age groups who do the most spending online. If you are running an eCommerce business, it is definitely worth your time and effort to make sure you are creating an eco-friendly brand and making deliberate choices about sustainability and social responsibility. 


Sustainability Defined


So, what does sustainability mean? 

Sustainable practices are ways of doing things that maintain the integrity of our environment. If we don't figure out a way to live within the means of our planet's systems, then we will soon be in for a rude awakening. Sustainable practices are tied to our natural environment, but also society and culture. Basically, you want to ensure that your business' operations are not harming other people or the physical environment.


Seven Areas to Focus on to Make Your Brand Environmentally-Friendly and Socially-Conscious


When you are running a business, you have many different opportunities— every step of the way — to make environmentally sustainable and socially responsible choices. Here are seven areas of your business to evaluate:


1. The products you are selling


This is probably the most obvious place to start, but there are many related factors to assess that you may not have thought of. The most direct route is to sell products that directly impact environmental impact, like reusable straws or chemical- and cruelty-free cosmetics. Even if your products are not directly-related to eco-living, sustainable products should be high-quality and long-lasting and made from sustainable materials using sustainable processes. 


Do thorough research about the products you're interested in selling, and find out everything you can about how they are made. Are all of the components eco-friendly? What is the manufacturing process, and how do they deal with byproducts? Ask people. 


Chances are, if a company is using sustainable practices, they'll be excited to tell you all about their efforts. It's also important to look out for how the companies treat their employees and their communities' health. Consumers do not want to be tricked—don't make claims that you can't substantiate, and be picky about what you choose to sell.

2. How you sell your products.


When a customer is shopping in your eCommerce store, is it perfectly clear what they'll be getting? Is it a high-quality product that will show up as advertised? Do your due diligence to properly inform your customers—provide exact product details, reviews, lots of clear photos from different angles, specific sizing information—as much information as possible. 


It's a terrible experience to order something online that doesn't meet your perceived expectations. When a customer wants to return something, you're losing out on a sale, and unnecessary shipping is wasteful. Ensuring that your customers are happy with what they receive is good business practice in general and the fact that they won't want to return also avoids a negative environmental impact. Which brings us to the next point:


3. Return policy.


Even if you've covered all of your bases, customers will occasionally want to return their purchase. Get creative with your return policy—a little extra time spent on customer service here may have a significant environmental impact. If the product showed up damaged, and the customer can show you photos as confirmation, there's no reason for them to ship it back. 


Just let them keep it and send them a new one. If the customer simply changed their mind, consider refunding their money and encourage them to donate the product locally on your behalf rather than shipping it back. Having a fair return policy is another opportunity to emphasize your company's commitment to sustainability, and customers will respect that.


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4. Packaging and shipping.


How are your products packaged and shipped, and from where? Dropship from suppliers using minimal packaging that is fully recyclable, and even better, reusable. And whenever possible, source from dropshipping suppliers in the USA.


5. The impact of your products.


Even when you're selling well-made, long-lasting products, you can do more to make sure that your customers are getting the maximum amount of life out of their purchases. Include easy-to-read care instructions with your products, and make sure to also include instructions for when the product has reached the end of its life. Explain to customers different ways to donate your products, upcycle, repurpose, recycle, or when it is the only option, dispose of safely.


6. Giving back. 


There are many different ways to help offset your business' environmental impact and give back to the communities, and society in general, which are integral to your success. Look into different available programs for charitable donations. Do some research, and figure out which approach your business would like to take. It can be extra rewarding to focus on a cause that is important to you and then rally your business behind it. 


Reducing or neutralizing your business' carbon footprint is another way to think green and very relevant to dropshipping businesses. Look at this Forbes list of 101 companies committed to reducing their carbon footprint and the different approaches they're taking. You might be surprised by all of the possibilities. Carbon-free is one example of a shipping-specific program, but many other programs, calculators, and apps can help. See what your competitors are doing, ask for advice on forums, and find something that works for you.


7. Awareness. 


Use your platform to spread awareness of social justice and environmental issues. Explain how your business is doing its part and how your customers can help, too. Choose to align yourself with and dropship from manufacturers that are doing the same.


Closing


It's essential to stay open to growth and make positive changes along with the ever-changing landscape of environmental sustainability. Making efforts to ensure that your business is environmentally and socially responsible is a win-win situation. 


It's a wise business choice that can make your brand more desirable and successful; it's the right thing to do for the future of our planet, and everyone on it — knowing that you are doing your part is something that you can genuinely feel good about.


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Nadia Staikos

Nadia Staikos is a Toronto-based writer. When she isn't writing about Ecommerce, she's writing fiction that can be found in various literary magazines.


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