I want it all, and I want it now,” sang Freddie Mercury. We can all relate. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are done but the online shopping frenzy has only kicked into high gear, as the holidays are right around the corner. We both recently ordered Christmas gifts for our loved ones over the cyber days (and let’s be honest, for ourselves too). Dorit ordered new Adidas UltraBoosts and Alina treated herself to a new watch from Fossil – after all you don’t get 30% off every day, do you?!
With super-speedy delivery times and one-swipe checkout, we have all gotten used to ordering almost everything we need for our day-to-day lives online and having packages delivered right to our doors. While picking out the perfect products and gifts from the comfort of your own home sounds easy and convenient, the environmental impact of online shopping – and shipping – can be huge.
It’s become obvious that while general awareness of the climate crisis and our desire to be part of the solution are more prevalent than ever before, it hasn’t completely trickled down to the daily online habits of mainstream society. We want to help safeguard our planet, but we still ‘want it all and want it now.’ Something’s got to give.
Satisfying two contradictory desires
On the surface, it feels like there has never been a better time to launch a sustainable offering. Consumers, particularly millennials, increasingly say they want brands that embrace purpose and sustainability. Simultaneously, however, these same customers are also particularly uncompromising when it comes to their personal convenience. So now, brands need to satisfy two seemingly contradictory demands at the same time: sustainability and convenience.
One feature of online shopping we take for granted now is the offer of next-day (and even same-day) delivery. For manufacturers and distributors, this means always having available stock – which requires more space to keep it and more energy to store and move it. For fresh food, the promise of constant availability means increased levels of food waste.
And, in order to satisfy such fast delivery requirements, more trucks are needed on the road – often ones that are only partly loaded. In 2017, Amazon’s deliveries alone emitted about 19 million metric tons of carbon, according to 350 Seattle, a group that works to combat climate overheating. The mega-retailer has around 100 million subscribers to its $119-a-year Prime program, all of whom can get free one-day shipping on 10 million products. The impact to their end-to-end supply chain is massive. Massive is actually an understatement.
Furthermore, a frustrating paradox exists at the heart of green business: Few consumers who report positive attitudes toward eco-friendly products and services follow through with their wallets. In a survey by Harvard Business Review, 65% said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, yet only about 26% actually do so. While they increasingly say they’re worried about climate change, the dangers of pollution and other threats to the environment, their concerns rarely translate into purchases of environmentally friendly goods and services, which remain a small fraction of the market. Often many people talk green but have a list of excuses for not buying sustainable products: they’re too expensive or of low quality; the environmental benefits aren’t clear; or companies’ environmental claims aren’t trustworthy.