If the earth is destroyed, there’ll no longer be any need for online retail

Lake in the forest under clouds

Lake in the forest under clouds

Sustainability If the earth is destroyed, there’ll no longer be any need for online retail

Published on 22.03.2022 by Markus Peter, lecturer in online retail and online retail logistics at various universities of applied sciences

More and more companies are looking to produce products more sustainably. Issues such as recycling, eco-friendly packaging and many others have long since reached the world of online retail. Retailers are taking action, not just of their own volition, but also because customers are increasingly demanding sustainable options.

As a result of climate change, consumers are attaching greater importance to sustainable products. For this reason, it’s a good idea for entrepreneurs to produce and ship their goods in the most environmentally friendly way possible. This represents an opportunity for online retail to help make the economy as a whole greener.

Considering sustainable shipping options

When compared to in-store retail, online retail has the advantage of reducing the harmful environmental effects of car journeys to the store. However, in terms of the causes of greenhouse gases, both the packaging and the shipping are still required. In the case of Swiss Post, every parcel transported is CO2 neutral under the “pro clima” label.

There are several ways to make the packaging process more environmentally friendly:

  • Reduce use of packaging materials
  • Reuse the packaging
  • Recyclability of the packaging and filler material

Less is often more

Not everything that isn’t used needs to be recycled or thrown away. The first solution is to reduce the use of packaging material.

Many online retailers are now moving away from fixed box sizes and instead installing machines in their dispatch rooms that cut the packaging individually to the size of the item being shipped. Other companies use height-adjustable or telescopic boxes. An added bonus is that customized packaging usually does not need any filler material.

However, other retailers ship products in the original boxes that they already have. Some do the opposite and unpack the goods so they can then send them in smaller packages or even in a shipping bag.

This makes the parcels smaller and lighter, which is then reflected in the shipping costs.

Because reusing is more effective

Studies confirm that customers want to be able to return goods in the same packaging that was used for the delivery.

Samsung uses the packaging for some of its TV models in its original upcycling projects.

We can do without plastic too

Consumers tend to be sceptical about plastic packaging. There are numerous alternatives available, such as biopackaging, reusable packaging, paper solutions in place of plastic and many more.

Biopackaging is made from materials such as sugar cane, palm leaves and wood. The advantage here is that they are biodegradable.

Paper tape can be used as an alternative to plastic adhesive tape. The benefit of this is that no plastic finds its way into the paper recycling process.

Packaging padding machines can easily produce filler material using cardboard waste.

Filler material made from corn, potato or wheat starch performs the exact same function as polystyrene chips. Crumpled paper and newspaper are recyclable alternatives for filler material. The disadvantage of using newspaper is that it doesn’t look very pretty and is often considered cheap by customers.

Fewer returns

Besides the packaging, the transport of returns is also harmful to the environment. In many cases, this effect is less drastic than you might expect because existing logistics routes can be used – for example, the delivery van that picks up packages for shipping can also bring the returns back to the retailer.

Besides this, however, returns frequently mean that products can no longer be sold. Products that have never really been used are destroyed.

For this reason, preventing returns is extremely important from the perspective of sustainability.


Markus Peter, Post CH Ltd

Lecturer in online retail and online retail logistics at various universities of applied sciences.

Portrait Markus Peter

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