4 Ways to Ensure your Shipping is Sustainable

Krista Greenaway

Krista Greenaway

The transport industry is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions producing nearly 30% of our yearly output. With that in mind, now is the time for businesses to make their shipping practises sustainable. Here are 4 ways your business can start achieving it.

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The transport industry is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions producing nearly 30% of our yearly output. As our high streets begin to turn into no more than a barren wasteland, rapidly increasing online sales allows consumers to reap unlimited stock at all hours of the day.

A recent report found that global parcel volumes surpassed 100 billion for the first time in 2019. Even more concerning is that those numbers are likely to double, reaching 220 – 260 billion parcels by 2026. It is essential that every business takes action to reduce their carbon footprint yielded from their shipping practices. Here are 4 ways for you to get started:

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1) Review your Couriers

Carbon emissions from eCommerce shipping are more than just an unfortunate by-product of delivery service. Studies have shown that shipping emissions could contribute to approximately 17% of all global carbon emissions by 2050. An ominous figure and one that can be radically diminished if we start looking into options that offset emissions from our delivery services.

Everyone’s doing it…

Big brand businesses are starting to realise the impact that their eCommerce shipping has long-term and now is the time to take action to solve it. Parcel giants such as UPS have made significant progress in combating carbon disasters by introducing a carbon-neutral shipping option in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol.

Customers who opt to take part in the UPS carbon neutral program pay a small fee to offset the climate impact of the delivery of each of their packages. This means that for every tonne of CO2 a package produces in transportation, an equivalent amount of CO2 is saved by a verified emission reduction project somewhere else in the world. 

Some businesses are sharing the responsibility 

This is a practice that more and more businesses are beginning to implement into their operations. UPS along with the likes of DHL and Etsy all offer programmes that counteract carbon dioxide emissions generated by their mail service.

These businesses know that by implementing a choice for customers to be sustainable; they are rightly acknowledging their environmental impact but not forcing a standard among their consumer base. Instead, they acknowledge the need to improve and share the responsibility. 

2) Avoid excessive deliveries

We live in a world where everything we do needs to be smarter, faster, and more efficient than ever. But how many times does an efficient delivery service go unwarranted when a customer’s already busy lifestyle distracts them from being home to receive said delivery.

The issue here is that missing deliveries means re-deliveries. It is convenient for individuals to receive orders faster, but detrimental when this lax spending attitude begins to cause more hassle than it’s worth. To avoid increased chances of missed deliveries, reduce order volumes by eliminating the option for next-day delivery completely.

Parcels very rarely get delivered within one day like most company’s shipping promises. So the difference between 2-3 days won’t go unmissed. Fewer orders placed under eager intentions will ultimately reduce next day delivery transport and reduce overall emissions for your business.

“I don’t think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow vs. two days from now.”

Funnily enough, 94% of consumers care for the environment. Yet the vast majority still prefer fast, next-day delivery over an eco-friendly alternative. However – Half of these consumers are unaware that next-day delivery is worse for the environment than standard delivery options. So if the intent for environmental change is there, a business can utilise the lack of speedy shipping to educate and appease consumers while maintaining a high degree of transparency with them.

Avoid excessive deliveries

3) Reduce return volumes

Another issue surrounding high delivery volume is the increased likelihood of high returns. Ecommerce shipping exempts the ability to review products as you would in-store. As a result, returns are bound to be higher due to ease and convenience. In fact, research from Barclaycard found 30% of shoppers deliberately over-purchase and subsequently return unwanted items.

Due to the nature of online shopping and the ease of returns processes, it can be difficult to control return volumes. There are ways to easily manage them though. Damaged goods are a prime example. If a product is faulty and in need of replacing, consider sending out a new one to avoid the process of an unnecessary return. This will eliminate the need to arrange new pick-ups, meaning one less truck on the road.


4) Explore eco-friendly filling materials

A sustainable shipping process is supported by the use of eco-friendly materials within those shipped packages. Filling materials such as styrofoam and plastic bubble wrap are meaningless to many of us because we are so accustomed to immediately chucking protective packaging in the bin.

However, these materials are hazardous to the environment and add to your carbon footprint. Those little styrofoam peanuts you find scattered at the bottom of your delivery box, which ends up in the trash, last for what seems like forever. 

At least 267 different species have been affected by plastic pollution in the ocean

Plastic packaging on average can take up to 500 years to decompose. Over time, the deterioration of plastic into little pieces finds its way out of landfills and into oceans. Then, marine life mistakes these little nuggets of plastic for food, and typically ends up consuming them for dinner…

The devastating environmental impact caused by discarded manmade materials has reached critical levels. At least 267 different species have been affected by plastic pollution in the ocean. With proven negative consequences on ecosystems and now also potentially human health, consumers are becoming environmentally conscious and hold businesses and their packaging standards accountable.

Manmade mass now outweighs life on earth

Alas, even the overlooked parts of shipping practices can be made greener. Avoid using plastic packaging for your products wherever possible. Choose sustainable packaging materials which are eco-friendly, recyclable and cost-effective. By doing this, you give 9 out of 10 customers fewer materials to dispose of making recycling easier. 

At the end of the day…

Greenhouse gases are an inevitable result of the shipping industry. But that does not mean we are incapable of controlling the volumes of greenhouse gases produced from our output. Over time, taking the above sustainability practices and turning them into the norm for shipping services may actually begin to undo some of our unintentional wrongdoings.

In the next article, we will focus more intensely on international shipping and debate the ethos of land freight, harbour freight and airmail. Comparing the impact of each type of transport and looking deeper into the bigger picture. In the meantime, join the One Tribe team in our fight against climate change. And use our 20 step sustainability checklist which was made to help you easily transition into becoming a fully sustainable brand.

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