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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Taking the Carbon, Waste Out of eCommerce

Between Amazon and Etsy’s carbon-neutral ambitions, and more and more options for circular shipping containers, the millions of tons of emissions and waste generated by e-commerce could soon be a thing of the past.

While the ultra-competitive online shopping industry (estimated to be worth upwards of $3.3 trillion) has become faster, more accessible and more convenient in response to increased consumer demand, consumers are now also demanding more sustainable options — especially when it comes to packaging: According to a 2016 Harris Poll survey, more than half of Americans (56 percent) said they have packaging pet peeves, with the top two concerning recycling and disposal of packaging. About one-third (32 percent) said their pet peeve is packaging that is difficult to dispose of (e.g., takes up too much space in garbage, requires breakdown). 

In response, e-commerce giants including Etsy and Amazon are stepping up — and a growing array of circular shipping containers are cropping up to right the ship.

Amazon Day helps Prime members shop more efficiently

Image credit: Amazon

Last week, Amazon announced it is bringing a new level of delivery convenience and predictability to its Prime members with the launch of Amazon Day. The new option enables Prime members to choose a day of the week for their deliveries, making it easier to get purchases grouped and delivered together and, in many cases, in fewer packages. Members can also choose from Prime’s fast, free shipping options for any item they don’t want to include as part of their Amazon Day shipment.

The program is one of many sustainability initiatives to help achieve the company’s recently announced Shipment Zero target — its vision to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50 percent of all shipments net zero by 2030.

“Amazon Day adds another level of convenience to the many shipping benefits Prime members already enjoy. Prime members can now choose to get their orders delivered together in fewer boxes whenever possible, on the day that works best for them,” said Maria Renz, VP of Delivery Experience at Amazon. “We’ve been testing this program with a group of Prime members and Amazon Day has already reduced packaging by tens of thousands of boxes — a number that will only continue to grow now that the program is available to Prime members nationwide.”

Once Prime members select a day of the week that works best for them, adding items to their Amazon Day order is easy, with all items ordered that week arriving together on the designated day.

“Amazon Day makes shopping throughout the week so easy,” said Susan T. from Wilmington, DE, one of the Prime members who received early access to the service. “Whenever I think of something I need, I just buy it with Amazon Day and know it’s going to arrive on the day I work from home.”

Members can choose to use the Amazon Day delivery option any time they’d like, and it’s easy to change their Amazon Day at checkout to another day that works best for them.

“As a working mom of a two-year-old, living in Manhattan, I order from Amazon multiple times a week for my family’s needs,” said Sindy L. from New York City, another Prime member who received early access to the service. “With Amazon Day, all my orders now arrive on Mondays and in fewer boxes — that’s less for me to break down for recycling and less trips for the delivery driver.”

Etsy leads e-commerce closer to carbon-neutral shipping

Image credit: Etsy

Not to be outdone, Etsy — the global marketplace for unique and creative goods that works to connect millions of buyers and makers around the world — has also committed to building long-term climate resilience across its operations. The company has set ambitious targets to power its Living Building Challenge-certified offices and computing infrastructure with 100 percent renewable electricity and running zero waste operations by 2020.

However, in 2018, 98 percent of Etsy’s carbon impact stemmed from items shipped from Etsy sellers to Etsy buyers. While these scope 3 emissions from shipping are outside of Etsy’s direct control, Etsy felt responsible to step up and take immediate action on behalf of the millions of buyers and sellers active in the Etsy marketplace. To do this, the company partnered with 3Degrees — which provides renewable energy services including PPAs, RECs, community solar and more, to organizations looking to meet sustainability goals — to not only mitigate its external carbon impacts through verified emissions reductions, but with an eye to catalyzing broader industry change.

Etsy has also identified a number of additional levers that it hopes can drive carbon reduction longer term, including policy advocacy, vendor negotiation and peer collaboration.

3Degrees helped Etsy to identify a portfolio of emission-reduction projects to meet its desire for immediate action while fostering more sustainable shipping solutions for the future (read more about the key elements of the Etsy program designed by 3Degrees).

The results?

  • On February 26, Etsy became the first global ecommerce company to offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions generated by shipping, specifically those created when Etsy sellers ship items to buyers.

  • Etsy’s program is notable for taking voluntary action to address emissions on behalf of its sellers.

  • All offset projects provide co-benefits critical to human health, wellbeing and the livelihoods of local communities.

“Etsy has a long-standing track record of working to reduce our environmental footprint. Our carbon-neutral shipping initiative is a major milestone within our larger commitment to act urgently and aggressively in the fight against climate change,” said Chelsea Mozen, Sustainability Lead at Etsy. “We are excited to partner with 3Degrees in order to support projects with a high level of environmental integrity that will evolve with our growing needs.”

LivingPackets' THE BOX takes smart, sustainable shipping to a new level

Image credit: LivingPackets

Meanwhile, French packaging solutions startup LivingPackets has launched "THE BOX" — a reusable, sustainable and trackable shipping box that generates almost zero packaging waste — aimed at the €3,000 billion eCommerce market, which is growing at a staggering rate of more than 20 percent a year.

Reusable up to 1,000 times, the smart box holds contents up to 5kg and boasts patented features including real-time environmental monitoring (location, temperature, humidity, shocks, opening), as well as an integrated camera for remote viewing of the contents. An automatic holding system eliminates filling materials such as bubble-wrap, which takes hundreds of years to decompose in landfills. THE BOX also integrates an electronic address display, making packaging stickers obsolete while simplifying forward and reverse logistics.

"In addition to a massive reduction in cardboard and plastic waste, THE BOX can save merchants and logistics companies significant costs — up to 10 times less as compared with one-way packaging, which uses a myriad of environmentally unfriendly materials," says Alex Cotte, CEO of LivingPackets Group.

THE BOX also enhances the online shopping experience where, for example, customers can either pay for, or return a shipment by simply pressing a button on the packaging. Users and packaging collection points are incentivized to return the boxes and keep them in perpetual circulation.

LivingPackets is offering eCommerce and logistics providers the opportunity to immediately participate in the mass-market adoption of this exciting new packaging solution. Firms can now place orders of THE BOX and enjoy substantial financial benefits. It can also be custom-branded. LivingPackets offers a specific programme to logistics, eCommerce players and financial investors.

In addition to its innovative product, LivingPackets also promises a fairer way to reward all investors, thanks to a new profit-sharing model it launched in 2017.

On its website, the company explains: “At LivingPackets we want to make the world a better place. So much, that we are willing to share 50 percent of our profits with everyone willing to contribute. We want to eliminate all the waste packaging generated by millions of daily eCommerce deliveries in the world. To do so, we have invented THE BOX: a sustainable, secure and smart packaging, that enables fantastic new services and can be reused up to 1000 times before being recycled for infinite usage. Together, we can save trees, which end up as packaging in the garbage, and protect the oceans from one-way plastic used as filling materials. Join us, help us save our planet and get 50 percent of our profits!”

Returnity: Because recycling packaging is no longer enough

Along with innovations from companies such as LivingPackets and RePack, Returnity boxes and bags are another circular solution poised to revolutionize shipping – the company has already designed reusable solutions for clothing companies including Brideside, For Days, La Belle Bump and ThredUP.

The Returnity shipping box is similar in design and principle to the reusable tote used to deliver and return products purchased through Loop – a first-of-its-kind, global shopping system launched in January by TerraCycle and over two dozen CPG brands — which enables consumers to responsibly consume a variety of products in customized, brand-specific, durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused.