5 ways small businesses can prioritize sustainable shipping

As a business owner, you know you need to get your products into the hands of your customers. But have you ever thought about the environmental consequences of the shipping and delivery process alone?

As one report explains , the impact is difficult to pin down to a specific metric. However, consider that UPS alone delivered over 21 million packages every day in the second quarter of 2020. Clearly, it’s safe to say that shipping plays a major role in the well-being of our environment.

The good news is that sustainability is becoming more of a focus for both business owners and consumers. In one survey, 66% of entrepreneurs agreed that running an environmentally sustainable business was important to them. A separate study found that a whopping 77% of Americans are concerned about the environmental impact of the products they buy.

How to prioritize sustainable shipping

You might have already tried to go green in other areas of your business, like reducing your energy consumption or starting a recycling program for your packaging.

But when it comes to actually shipping and delivering your products? That can feel like a process that you don’t have much control over—as if you’re at the mercy of whatever resources you can access.

That’s not necessarily true. There are several changes your small business can make to implement sustainable shipping options that are good for you, your customers, and most importantly, the planet.

1. Explore alternative shipping solutions

The growing emphasis on climate change, sustainability, and environmental stewardship has led to a number of innovative shipping solutions. Small business owners no longer need to rely on only major carriers and can implement other options to reduce their emissions.

A couple of tools that are worth a look include:

  • SendleThis small business shipping company describes itself as carbon neutral , which means it offsets its release of carbon dioxide by supporting projects that help the environment. The company calculates the maximum carbon generation of any package and then uses a portion of each package cost to fund various sustainability projects.
  • Boox: Over 90% of all products in the U.S. are shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes. While an encouraging amount is recycled, it can still be a huge waste of resources. Boox aims to solve that with a reusable box that can be used over 20 times, which they say can reduce your environmental impact by 75%.

Solutions like those will still get your packages and products from point A to point B—but in a way you can feel good about.

2. Look for eco-friendly options with existing carriers

While new solutions are always cropping up, there’s no doubt that most small businesses will still need to rely on major carriers and shipping companies.

These organizations—like UPS, USPS, and FedEx—aren’t immune to the mounting pressures and conversations about environmental responsibility. Many have rolled out their own eco-friendly initiatives to commit to a healthier future for the planet, such as:

Check out those pages to find out more about their programs and, in some instances, how you can participate.

Even if a program isn’t applicable to your business, knowing that you’re working with a responsible carrier can be a good compromise. It’s ideal for business owners who want to prioritize and commit to sustainability but might not have the resources to completely change shipping services.

3. Offer “ship to store” options

Believe it or not, it’s the final leg of the delivery process—the “ last mile ”—that can be the most complex, costly, and harmful.

Think about it: One delivery truck might be filled with 100 packages, each of which needs to go to a different address. Not only does that often involve logistical nightmares, but it can have a major impact on carbon emissions and the environment.

In fact, researchers estimate that emissions from delivery traffic will increase by nearly a third by the year 2030. For businesses with a brick-and-mortar location, offering “ship to store” or “buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS) options can curb those negative effects.

With this method, customers order online but are responsible for picking up their purchase at a physical location—rather than having it shipped directly to them. Research has found that this method can result in fewer emissions per item than strictly online or in-store shopping.

This option can feel intimidating in today’s convenience-first era of shopping. However, it’s a surprisingly popular choice among customers. In fact, half of them admit they’ve decided where to buy online based on whether they could pick up their items in store.

So, if you’re a business with a brick-and-mortar location, you might be able to achieve more sustainable shipping by forgoing shipping altogether. At the very least, you might consider shortening your supply chain).

4. Optimize your supply chain and logistics

Speaking of the supply chain, it’s an aspect of your business that’s worth a closer look when you’re trying to level-up your sustainability efforts.

Sustainable shipping shouldn’t only look at how you’re delivering products to customers. It should also look at how you’re receiving items for your business—such as the raw materials to make your products. For example, you might:

  • Order your raw materials from California
  • Manufacture your products in Maine
  • Warehouse your products in Maine, Texas, and Montana
  • Transport your products to customers and retail outlets across the country

This example effectively illustrates just how much shipping and transportation can happen in a single supply chain.

What if you could source more of your raw materials locally in Maine? That would cut down on the shipping needs at the start of the process. You’re also likely to have your hands on your materials faster, as they have less distance to travel.

There isn’t always an obvious place to optimize or streamline your supply chain and logistics. But sometimes there is—and then it’s worth taking steps to reduce bloat in the process. There’s an incentive for you too. Businesses with optimal supply chains typically have lower supply chain costs.

5. Rethink your packaging

It’s nearly impossible to talk about sustainable shipping without shining a spotlight on another important aspect: sustainable packaging .

Think about the last time you received a package. There was a large cardboard box on your doorstep. You sliced open the tape with some scissors and found a slightly smaller box inside. After cutting into that one, you found the product itself—likely surrounded by Styrofoam or encased in plastic (or maybe even both).

It’s a lot of unreasonable waste. Small business owners can start to change that by focusing on more responsible shipping practices like:

  • Choose appropriately sized packaging. Using a box that’s too large not only increases shipping costs. It also takes up more space in the delivery truck—which means more trucks might need to be used to complete deliveries.
  • Combine packages. When customers place orders containing multiple items, wait to ship until all of the items are ready. That way you can use a single package rather than shipping several boxes.
  • Consider other materials. From biodegradable air pillows or packing peanuts to plant matter, there are a number of non-cardboard and non-plastic options for packaging your products.

Even implementing one of those tips can help you minimize waste and make a positive impact.

Make a difference with sustainable shipping

For the vast majority of business owners, shipping and delivery is a key piece of the puzzle. That’s true whether it’s how they get their products to customers, how they receive necessary materials and supplies, or both.

While it’s crucial and in many cases unavoidable, shipping can have major negative impacts on the environment.

You don’t need to write it off as a necessary evil. There are changes you can make—both big and small—that will help you prioritize sustainable shipping and contribute to positive changes for the planet.

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