Do Shoppers Really Care About Sustainability? [Earth Day 2024]

Updated: April 23, 2024


8 mins read

If you look at eCommerce through the lens of the climate crisis, you see a flurry of contradictions. Consumers are buying more than ever, and the world’s biggest brands aren’t the ones with deep commitments to sustainability. Yet we are constantly told that shoppers care about the future of the planet and merchants need to embrace greener business practices. So what gives? Do consumers really care? Should brands? 

Well, it turns out they care a lot, and there’s been a big shift in attitudes over the past few years. According to a recent report from Google, more than 80% of consumers consider sustainability a more pressing issue today than it was pre-pandemic. And 75% of shoppers say they’re willing to pay more in retail for products and services from companies committed to positive social and environmental impact.

What does this mean for you? It means that your customers want to know that you care about the same things they do. 

And you have to prove your commitment to sustainability—shoppers have grown weary of greenwashing and instead want to see tangible impacts. If you connect with consumers on shared values, it’s easier to sell to them, and to win their long-term loyalty. 

How does sustainability drive brand loyalty for retailers?

Consumers are becoming more aware of the brands they support and are looking for companies that share their values. And that concern spans across generations—while 75% of Gen Z shoppers rate sustainability as an important factor when making a purchase, Gen X and Millenials aren’t far behind, at 73% and 71% respectively. 

Sustainability is about meeting our current needs without compromising the resources of future generations. So, it makes sense that it’s top of mind for younger shoppers.

Sustainability is good for business

Studies have found that a company's values and purpose significantly influence purchasing decisions. When price and quality are equal, nearly 70% of consumers say they would buy from a purpose-driven firm rather than one without a cause. And 78% of consumers are likelier to remember a company with a strong purpose.

What does this mean for you? It means that sustainability is good for business. By reducing your environmental impact, you’re not only doing your part to protect the planet, but you’re also differentiating yourself from your competition and making your brand more memorable.

Moreover, you’re building trust with your customers by being transparent about your sustainability efforts. They’ll know you’re a company they can feel good about doing business with. In fact, 65% of shoppers agree that brands should measure their carbon footprint and have a specific plan to reach carbon neutrality.

Sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have in retail, it’s a necessity.

The SEC recently adopted climate disclosure rules that will require public companies to report on emissions, among other things. The rule is a response to growing investor interest in sustainability.

With investors and consumers seeking more climate-friendly action from businesses, it’s never been more important to focus on making your business more sustainable.

How can I reduce my carbon footprint?

There are a few simple steps that you can take to reduce your carbon footprint for your online retail business. Here are some quick tips.

Do the basics of sustainability

There are a lot of things you can do to make your company more sustainable. But sometimes, the simplest things can make the biggest difference. Here are a few things you can do to get started:

  • Use sustainable materials in your products
  • Switch to greener shipping methods
  • Package your goods with recycled or compostable materials
  • Recycle and reduce waste in your day-to-day business operations
DIME Beauty on sustainability
DIME Beauty shares their commitment to sustainable materials and packaging

Commit to sustainability

Transitioning a company to be more sustainable is a difficult thing to do. Not only is it a mentality shift that needs buy-in across the company, but it can be a financial investment as well. And after all is said and done, some consumers might still feel like you're not doing enough.

But despite all of these challenges, it's important to remember that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. Every company has to start somewhere, and the most important thing is to take the first step and commit to the long run. With consistency in messaging and actions, your customers will take notice and appreciate your efforts.

Create tangible sustainability targets in the short and mid-term

It can be difficult to know where to start when trying to make your company more sustainable. A great way to begin is by setting sustainability targets in the short and mid-term. This will help you focus your efforts and track your progress.

Not sure what kind of targets to set? Here are a few ideas:

  • Reduce carbon emissions by X% in the next year
  • Use recycled materials for X% of products in the next year
  • Switch to green shipping methods for X% of orders in the next year
Murad's sustainability targets
Skincare brand Murad shares their sustainability targets with consumers

These are just a few examples, but the important thing is to pick targets that are realistic and achievable. Whichever direction you decide to go, once you've set your targets, be sure to communicate them to your team and customers.

Be transparent about your efforts

It’s one thing to make your company more sustainable, but it’s another thing to communicate your efforts to your customers. Being transparent about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it is key to building trust with your audience.

This could involve anything from sharing your sustainability report to writing blog posts about the steps you’re taking to reduce your impact. No matter what you do, make sure you’re clear and consistent in your messaging.

It’s also important to let customers know how they are helping the planet by shopping with you, so they are invested in your products and brand. 

Pura Vida and Surfrider Foundation
Jewelry brand Pura Vida donates a portion of sales to organizations like the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's ocean, waves, and beaches

Find ways to offset your carbon emissions

Carbon offsetting involves calculating the amount of carbon emissions generated by a particular activity (such as shipping a package) and then finding ways to avoid or sequester the same amount of carbon elsewhere in the environment.

And the first step in offsetting carbon emissions is to get a clear picture of the environmental impact that your company is actually making. AfterShip’s Carbon Emissions Report uses a unique algorithm to generate a report that is specific to your business, so you can discover methods to reduce your carbon impact. The methodology behind the report is certified by SGS, a global leader in verifying carbon emissions, which means it meets the highest standards for accuracy and reliability. 

Make your returns process greener

Returns are a massive headache for eCommerce brands and a major drain on the environment. If you look at apparel brands, which account for the most significant number of returns of any vertical, 2.6 million tons of returned merchandise ended up in landfills in 2020.  

Green Returns makes the returns process more sustainable, by eliminating the need for customers to return some items in order to receive a refund. This is a good practice for items that can’t be resold, like damaged items, or low-value items that cost more to process a return than the item is worth. With green returns policies, you aren’t wasting precious resources on products that would otherwise go into a landfill.

Show off your hard work

As your business becomes more sustainable, there are numerous certifications you can apply for and display on your website and marketing materials to show your commitment to eco-friendly business practices. Here are a few:

  • B Corp: This is the most stringent certification. These companies must demonstrate a positive impact on their industry, employees, communities, and the environment. 
  • 1% for the Planet: Brands participating in this initiative commit to donating at least 1% of annual sales to environmental organizations. 
  • Climate Neutral: This certification shows that a brand has achieved climate neutrality and is on a journey to limit carbon emissions from its operations.
  • LWG: The Leather Working Group (LWG) certifies leather manufacturers who commit to sustainable practices. 
  • FSC: The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification ensures that wood and paper products come from responsibly managed forests.

Having a small environmental footprint is important, not only for the world itself but for your bottom line, as customers continue to demand more green initiatives in return for their loyalty. 

Be a business that walks the walk on sustainability and your customers will reward you with long-term retention and brand advocacy. 

Updated: April 23, 2024

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