If you believe shopping online is greener than shopping in brick-and-mortar stores, you’re not alone. Many people think that, because there’s less energy used to run an online vs a physical store — as well as no land taken up by it — online shopping is an environmentally-friendly alternative. In some ways, this is true. Though the online world does still have its carbon footprint.
We chatted to Krissie Leyland, co-founder of MindfulCommerce (a community and resource hub for e-commerce businesses who want to grow and do good for the world) to find out more.
“With physical shopping, shoppers drive once, often stay local, and generally make a greater number of purchases per trip. As the number of online purchases scales, we must do all we can to reduce the ecological consequences. There’s more carbon emitted from running the internet than from all the airlines combined”.
Now, let’s look at what the stats tell us.
With climate change and social consciousness becoming increasingly hot topics, there’s a lot of new research surrounding it all:
95% of purchases are estimated to be made online by 2040.
98% of consumers think brands have a responsibility to make positive change in the world.
37% of consumers believe companies today have a clear and strong purpose. Customers are 4-6 times more likely to buy from, trust, champion, and defend companies with a strong one.
4% of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the transmission of data via the internet.
There’s no getting away from the fact that online shopping has consequences. But, as the stats above demonstrate, brands that place social impact at their core, or at least make some effort to be more socially-conscious, will not only do some good in the world, but will increase customer trust, loyalty and retention.
It’s a notion many brands are becoming increasingly receptive to. And so, aside from re-thinking their operations, or their production, for example, we’re also seeing some pretty cool stuff happening within e-commerce specifically.
Examples of socially‑conscious e‑commerce initiatives
Here are some brands we work with that we’ve helped harness technology or built certain initiatives for to create more benevolent e-commerce stores.
The BBC's e-commerce store is a place where you can buy your favourite box sets along with apparel, accessories, jewellery, books and homewares in a carbon-neutral way. By partnering with Ecologi, the BBC say they’ll “offset the effect of your purchase on the environment by planting a tree for every order placed." This is highlighted in the announcement banner, cart and checkout.
BBC's offset your purchase feature
Third Man Records
Record label, Third Man Records, are using the Shopify tipping function to ask their customers to add a few dollars to their order for a charity local to them.
Moving Nashville Forward helps people experiencing poverty in Nashville (where the record label is based) by sending resources where they’re needed most. They’re also working to change how the city addresses poverty.
Third Man Records' tipping function
Selfless by Hyram
Skincare brand, Selfless by Hyram, was created with social change at its very core. Each product purchased from their online store helps to either fund clean drinking water via Thirst Project, or to protect tropical forests from deforestation via Rainforest Trust.
We used Shopify Sections and built two different 'themes' to differentiate between the products that support each cause: a blue theme (representing products that support the Thirst Project) and a green theme (for products that contribute towards the Rainforest Trust).
Selfless By Hyram's 'Social Impact'
Lightbox’s vision for reducing their environmental impact is as crystal clear as their lab-grown diamonds, with a dedicated landing page that shares their targets for reducing their energy consumption and more.
Lightbox also contribute to making orders carbon neutral via the EcoCart app, and highlight this to customers with a message at checkout. Lightbox’s contribution will go towards the Tri-City Forest Project.
Lightbox's carbon neutral shopping cart
For every Pangaia product purchased, one tree is planted, protected or restored through Tomorrow Tree Fund powered by Milkywire. Another two trees can be planted, protected or restored via Pangaia’s ‘Refer a friend’ scheme (one ‘by you’, one ‘by your friend’).
Pangaia's 'Tomorrow Tree Fund'
For those who want to go a step further, Pangaia’s ‘Shop to Support’ initiative has a whole landing page dedicated to attracting browsers to donate money to the causes they’re passionate about, from protecting jaguars to offsetting the carbon footprint of your phone. Each cause donation has a set price, and can be added to your cart as you would with any other product.
Of course, it’s not just our clients who are using tech for good. Here are some other brands we’ve spotted championing socially-conscious e-commerce initiatives.
Sustainable essentials brand, Organic Basics, have created an eco-friendly version of their website which uses less Co2 than their standard site. By replacing data-heavy elements such as images and videos with simple illustrations for example, this low-impact website reduces carbon emissions by up to 70%.
They’ve even thought about how using cookies can help:
Organic Basics' low impact website
Modern fashion brand COS is one of the 8 brands within the H&M Group, who are aiming to be climate positive by 2040. COS have put environmental responsibility at their heart since their conception, and are refreshingly transparent about their current impact and sustainability journey on this dedicated landing page.
COS Resell: buy and sell preowned styles
They’ve launched several ongoing solutions so far to help increase their sustainability, one of which is COS re-sell: a destination to buy and sell pre-owned COS items. This hub makes it much easier for their target audience to discover relevant products than if they searched ‘COS’ on the likes of Depop or eBay, for example.
Similar to COS re-sell is Mulberry Pre-Loved. This designer handbag brand knows that the shopping experience itself plays a big part in why people choose to buy luxury products — their dedicated pre-loved section on the Mulberry website gives customers the same premium experience as if they were to buy new.
Shopping directly from the brand also gives customers reassurance of authenticity and quality control — things that might be of concern when buying second-hand luxury elsewhere.
United By Blue
With United By Blue, the clue’s in the name. Their mission is to tackle ocean pollution by removing 1lb of litter from the ocean for every item purchased. Their achievements are proudly demonstrated by a trash counter they’ve implemented, which shows they’ve removed over 3.6 million pounds of trash so far!
United by Blue's dynamic trash counter
In fact, this apparel brand organised their first beach cleanup in the week they sold their first t-shirt. For anyone who wants to get their hands dirty, the United By Blue website also has cleanup signups as well as cleanup kits for anyone who wants to organise their own.
When you shop your favourite designer fashion and beauty brands on Olivela, they’ll give 20% of the proceeds directly to a charity. By working with the likes of Save the Children, CARE, Global Green and lots more, every purchase does a whole lot of good.
Olivela's when you shop, we donate page
‘The Olivela Effect’ callouts on each product description page (pictured below) inform the browser how many essential supplies the purchase of that item would provide for a family, while the dynamically updating donations counter (pictured above) on the homepage shows the total donations made so far. Both of these are a fantastic way to reassure customers that their money is doing good, and to win further custom.
Olivela's product page with 'The Olivela Effect' feature
Patagonia: Worn Wear
Worn Wear by Patagonia is a store comprising second-hand Patagonia clothing. The scheme encourages previous customers to trade in their pre-loved Patagonia items in exchange for store credit (which of course, encourages previous customers to buy from Patagonia again).
Worn Wear is powered by Trove: an end-to-end operating system which enables a circular economy for some of the world’s best brands, including Levi’s.
'Worn Wear' by Patagonia
Designer wall paint, wallpaper and blinds company, Lick, make it easy to decorate and do some good along the way.
By partnering with 4ocean, 18g of plastic is removed from the ocean for every 2.5l tin of paint that Lick sells. And for every roll of wallpaper or every pair of blinds sold, One Tree Planted will plant a tree. This partnership has put over 1,666 trees in the ground so far, covering an area the size of 23.5 football pitches and removing 26 tons of carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere.
Check out their sustainability hub to see more ways Lick is reducing their environmental impact.
Lick's 'Sustainability Hub'
When it costs just $1 extra and you’re making a purchase anyway, why wouldn’t you pay a tiny bit more to plant a tree? Amour Vert’s simple prompt at checkout has had a huge impact, with over 353,762 trees planted in North America so far.
Built on Shopify, this website has a small custom application in the back end to achieve the tipping functionality, plus some front end work to render it. Clever stuff.
Take a peek at their other sustainability practices here.
Armour Vert's "buy a tee, plant a tree" donation feature
Lastly, Shopify themselves are doing their bit for the planet, as well as helping brands use their platform to launch their own socially-conscious initiatives.
If a brand on Shopify uses Shopify Payments, Shopify will offset the carbon through deforestation protection projects.
What technologies are available to support this?
The growing demand for brands to offer eco-friendly initiatives through their online stores has given rise to many new tech solutions. These help brands to align more with the demands of todays’ conscious consumers.
Apps such as GreenStory and GoodCarts enable conscious businesses to promote themselves to perfectly aligned target audiences, whilst the likes of EcoCart and CarbonClick offset the carbon footprint of transactions.
Companies like ShoppingGives facilitate brands to give back to causes they care about, and solutions such as Recurate help brands to plugin a second hand store on their site. When it comes to globalisation strategies, carbon neutral fulfilment solutions such as ShipBob make it easy to ship products on a global scale whilst being mindful of emissions.
You can discover more tech solutions on the MindfulCommerce Directory or join their free community.
The impact of e-commerce is far-reaching. Businesses and consumers alike need to wake up to the full range of challenges we face and tackle them head-on, like the brands above have done. The e-commerce industry has the power to be part of the solution and with the amount of technology emerging in this space to help with combating climate change, revolution is within our grasp.
As Krissie from MindfulCommerce points out, “brands have a huge opportunity to stand out from their competitors by demonstrating that their e-commerce business has real purpose in the way that they operate. Honesty and open communication with conscious consumers has never been more important and will ultimately boost the bottom line.”
If you’d like to explore technology that could help your brand become more socially conscious on Shopify Plus, get in touch.