Aside from transport and delivery, other aspects of online shopping are crucial for the environment. The amounts of orders purchased and returned to retailers contribute to the carbon emissions of the e-commerce industry worldwide. Additionally, a high number of these orders are not put back into the retail value chain, as returning and repacking would result in extra costs for the retailers. In 2021, it was estimated that over four billion tons of returned items ended up in landfills in the United States. Their transportation produced 27 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions that year, almost doubling the amount registered in 2020.
Retailers’ action: where are they at?Enforced in 2016, the Paris Agreement treaty urged countries and companies to reduce their carbon emissions to keep global warming below 2 — preferably 1.5 — degrees Celsius. As thousands of other organizations, retailers with e-commerce activities have intervened on their Scope 3 emissions, the ones most related to the distribution and transportation of goods. Although significant progress has been made, annual data disclosed by online retailers showed that increasing e-commerce activity came along with a bigger carbon footprint.
Although essential, offsetting carbon emissions is only one aspect of sustainability in e-commerce. Businesses still must implement further actions to achieve full circularity; by ensuring easy recycling of products, improving manufacturing efficiency, and partnering with other sustainable suppliers, all these initiatives require huge efforts and bigger investments. More eco-friendly e-commerce is likely to be socially fair, too. The number of certified benefit corporations (B corp) has increased over the last years, with several e-commerce organizations and services providers aligning with higher social and environmental standards.