For more years than I care to remember, I have worked in supply chain procurement, fulfillment, and transport logistics. Now I’m writing and reporting about how supply chains are embracing sustainability. It’s a big word and a huge topic. I’m planning to demystify sustainability in bite-size pieces. Today it’s about getting your products to the customer without destroying the planet.
Incorporating sustainability initiatives into your supply chain is no longer an option, for three reasons:
- Competitive advantage in your sector,
- Mitigate risks that could damage your brand,
- Attract and retain customers.
Sustainability is based on the principle that socially responsible products and practices are not only good for the environment but good for society and business. Consumers care about sustainable practices — from the depleting of natural resources to product packaging and shipping.
The Shipping Dilemma
Customers want fast deliveries. But they also care about the impact of shipping on the environment. Sadly, the “last mile” is notoriously eco-unfriendly.
On the one hand, consumers want fewer fossil fuels, cleaner air, recyclable packaging, and minimum waste. But they still want their purchases now. According to a recent Nielsen survey of ecommerce customers, 73 percent of respondents said they would definitely or probably change their behavior to reduce its impact on the planet. We have yet to see it occur in practice, however, except perhaps amongst millennials. Thus demographics have a definite impact — the younger the audience, the more important is sustainability.
How can you build sustainable practices into your logistics? Consider:
- Slower is greener. Not every purchase is urgent. Customers could be happy to wait longer if it is better for the environment. Convey the tradeoff to shoppers: Five-day delivery is cheaper (or even free). Or, consolidating parcel orders for cheaper, later delivery reduces miles traveled. Slower but greener is one way to get the balance right with customers.
- More delivery choices. By giving customers flexible delivery options such as click-and-collect or parcel pick-up locations or lockers, you can streamline last-mile routes, reducing your carbon footprint. Many parcel couriers now use electric vehicles for inner-city deliveries. They are viable and effective up to 70 miles without charging.
- Minimize returned goods. Returns cost retailers billions per year, especially apparel sellers. The cost to the environment is enormous, and many returned products go straight to the landfill. Offer incentives and options to discourage returns. Returns are a headache for the customer as well as the merchant.
Whether your eco-initiatives are within your own supply chain or via partners, tell your customers that you care. Project your image as a retailer that desires a clean environment and the limited use of scarce resources. Build trust through transparency and communication. Beware of greenwashing, however. Consumers are wise to false claims and misleading messages.
Take the example of Green Toys, a direct-to-consumer manufacturer. All of its toys are sourced, designed, and manufactured in the United States, greatly reducing the ecological footprint. Here’s the company’s “Our Commitment” statement:
At Green Toys, it’s our mission to be the world’s most trusted, transparent provider of environmentally and socially responsible toys and tableware for children. Sure, it’s a mouthful. But it’s who we are.
Ecommerce is not environmentally friendly. Smaller logistics and transport companies are generally not forward-thinking in sustainable practices.
Retailers should be concerned about uncommitted carriers. Bad news travels fast. Reputations are critical. As ecommerce sales continue to rise, logistics companies will need to adjust their business practices to suit the style and types of delivery services consumers demand.
Making the right choice is about selecting the most environmentally friendly and affordable shipping mode and carrier partner for each order and destination. The aim is to minimize trips and distance covered. Working with multiple carriers, couriers, and transport modes allows you to select the right way to ship every package.