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Simple Steps to Improve the Environmental Impact of Your Ecommerce Operations


Abi Brodie, VP of ecommerce at DHL Express advises on logistical solutions that all fashion businesses need to think about…

It’s no secret that the global fashion industry has a far-reaching impact on the natural environment, an impact that will only increase as the world’s population continues to grow and with it annual global apparel consumption. Our recent report Fashion and Environment, carried out in partnership with the British Fashion Council highlighted the need for the industry to respond to this growing challenge with wide reaching changes, and while that may sound daunting, the British fashion industry has always been well placed to respond with speed and innovation throughout its history.

When most people think of fashion, logistics is unlikely to be the first thing they think of, but in reality it is the grid that underpins the industry. With e-commerce sales totaling £1.9 trillion worldwide, online shopping is driving fashion forward. However, the impact of goods travelling repeatedly to and from delivery centres to homes can add significantly to the carbon footprint of each item. The energy footprint of fashion has moved from being simply an in-store footprint to one encompassing packaging and logistics, and therefore requires consideration to ensure products are delivered in the most efficient and sustainable manner possible. So what can small businesses in the fashion industry look at, and where to start?

An important area to consider in reducing the impact of your deliveries is working towards ensuring that your products are delivered first time. Not only does this improve the customer experience, but importantly it eliminates the unnecessary impact of second and third delivery attempts. There are several things you can do to ensure your deliveries are right first time.

Firstly, ensure that the details you have for the customer are correct. Email and mobile numbers mean that they can be kept informed of the delivery. It’s also helpful to allow your customers to save their preferences, as this will streamline the process for them when they order again, giving the best chance of their order reaching its destination first time.

Secondly, ask your logistics partner if they offer ‘in-flight’ updates via an app, SMS or email. Real time updates keep your customers up to date on when the parcel is on its way and due for delivery, and gives them the flexibility to choose how this information is provided to them, again improving the chances of a first time delivery.

It can also be helpful to implement the most flexible delivery possible, by allowing changes to be made even after orders have left your warehouse. This might mean rerouting the parcel to another address, a secure locker, or a neighbour, or waiving the need for a signature in specific circumstances.

Ultimately, giving your customer choice and control over their delivery will increase satisfaction, reducing unsuccessful delivery attempts and minimising the carbon emissions generated.

Finally, one important aspect to consider is working with a logistics partner that both offers an environmental delivery option, carbon reporting and consulting, as well actively working to reduce its own environmental impact. For example, the DHL GoGreen strategy is working towards zero logistics-related emissions by 2050 by tackling all aspects of the logistics chain.

Despite recent improvements and switching to more easily recyclable/compostable packaging, many products worldwide continue to rely on single-use plastics/wrapping, and according to figures from the US, e-commerce packaging accounts for 30% of solid waste generated. Clearly there is a pressing need for businesses delivering products to their customers to evaluate their packaging.

In the first instance ask yourself what materials you most commonly use to package your products, and if all of it is necessary. Can any of it be eliminated? Is there a way of reducing the amount of packaging used, and increasing the amount of recycled materials used? Then look at how clear is it which parts of your packaging can be recycled, and what you can do differently to facilitate 100% recyclability. There are also alternative packaging solutions on offer, such as RePack, a reusable and returnable packaging service, which can offer innovative solutions to reduce your impact and are worth exploring to see if they are viable options for your business.

While the scale of the challenge is not insignificant, it’s important for small businesses to not be disheartened. By working with partners across every aspect of your business, not just the distribution and packaging, it’s possible to come up with solutions that are simple to implement and will have a positive impact on the environment and your brand.

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