A survey commissioned by 7bridges explored how much consumers really care about the environmental impact of their online shopping. And, more importantly, how much does that influence their purchase decisions?
As part of the research we conducted in August 2020 by YouGov, we asked consumers what value they placed on environmentally responsible delivery options and packaging. And the results were interesting, showing a greater preference for green options than anticipated.
In the 25-34 age group, 62% said minimal, eco-friendly
packaging made a difference to their choice of retailer
58% looked for green and/or carbon-neutral delivery
options as a purchase differentiator.
This age group spends 22% more in online purchases than the average consumer every month. For e-commerce and direct-to-consumer brands especially, it certainly pays to emphasise green delivery and returns in order to build brand loyalty with this demographic. And, because awareness of environmental pressures is growing daily, especially amongst younger generations, a greener supply chain is an urgent consideration both now and for the future.
Often when environmental initiatives are discussed, the headlines are dominated by the prospect of new technologies as part of a long-term “future solution”.
But we should all be wary of the idea that new investment and a long technical overhaul is required before the situation can be improved. As the data from our survey shows, consumers are making choices NOW based on their green preferences. It’s important to do what we can with the tools that are available to us now. And those tools are a lot more accessible than we let ourselves think.
In fact, far from requiring a lot of investment, the greener option can actually be the cheaper option too. It turns out that many of the improvements mentioned here will achieve a more eco-friendly delivery, but they’ll also save money. To put that another way: inefficient, wasteful logistics are environmentally damaging, and by improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness you also reduce the carbon footprint, amount of waste generated, and so on.
With a little thought and planning, your supply chain can be greener and leaner.
In fact, based on a supply chain experiment we ran in 2022, each business has what we call a Green Ratio. This number represents the most balanced way a company can cut down on carbon and costs at the same time. The Green Ratio can be your guiding figure as you work toward a greener supply chain while still protecting revenue from being consumed by it.
We’ve all received items ordered online and by the time we’ve finished unpacking, we’re left with a pile of unwanted material many times the size of the object we ordered.
Bubblewrap, styrofoam beads, blocks of expanded polystyrene, plastic enclosures and wraps. Of this heap of material, only the cardboard carton is really recyclable, and even that may be compromised by the plastic tape used to close and seal it.
Some consumers will just regard disposing of all this as a nuisance and forget about it once it’s out of the back door. Others – in particular, the younger demographic – are acutely aware of the implications.
The range of green packaging materials now available makes it easy to move to non-toxic, non-hazardous materials, to switch from plastics to paper, to use sustainably-sourced, biodegradable, options like paper void filler, earth-friendly tape, and recycled cartons.
In doing so, businesses will be able to avoid creating the very negative impression left by a heap of waste on the consumer’s carpet.
But having green packaging materials is only a part of the picture. To really make your packaging impact minimal, good process control in your shipping process is essential.
In the real world, if a package of the correct size isn’t to hand in your dispatch bay when your team is packing an order, the item gets packed in a larger carton. Of course this carton is more expensive, and breaks the ‘minimal packaging’ standard in a way that’s very obvious to the consumer at unwrapping time, but it also often increases cost of delivery.
Appropriate (and preferably automated) packaging selection integrated into your dispatch workflow should ensure that the container always fits the item. And, to make certain that the right container is always available, accurate predictive stock control and automated ordering of packaging materials become an important aspect of lean-green logistics.
Intelligent, consistent process control is also vital for increasing the efficiency of dispatch operations. Smarter consolidation of shipments - using AI technology - makes it possible to significantly reduce the total mileage of transport vehicles. Both in deliveries to the end-user and throughout stock supply, distribution and returns. The cost implications of this are clear, as are the implications for the overall impact of logistics on the environment.
Managing your logistics emissions is an increasingly important part of building a resilient supply chain that's fit for the future. From changing consumer expectations to increased regulations, the drive for greener supply chains is only growing. Which means your supply chain strategy needs to take emissions into account and should inform your company's net-zero goals.
Where businesses have historically struggled is twofold: getting sufficient access to emissions data and making that data useful to them. This is where having a data-led supply chain platform like 7bridges can make all the difference. Our Emissions layer is designed to help you accurately and easily measure the carbon emissions across your logistics service providers. We do this by analysing your supplier invoices and calculating the emissions for each shipment.
Having constant access to this data means being able to see exactly what you're emitting and when. Paired with other parts of the platform, you can see how you're currently emitting and how that stacks up against the rest of the industry, test out ways to reduce your emissions and automatically select the greenest shipments.
There’s a further major contribution that intelligent AI-powered logistics can make towards leaner-greener logistics. It’s one that improves the performance and green credentials across the supply chain, in stock distribution, delivery to the customer, and returns.
All too often we see items being dispatched from a central warehouse on a journey to a customer a very long distance away, when the same item is available in a local hub or even a store much closer to the destination. What should be the ‘last mile’ is really the last thousand. With the right logistics technology and processes, it’s simple to seize the opportunity here.
And what goes for delivery also applies to returns, so that instead of requiring the customer to send an item to a centralised warehouse, an intelligent process can direct it to the nearest hub or store, where it can either be prepared for resale or sent on in a consolidated load later.
Holding stock closer to the customer ticks the green box, but it’s also a key factor in implementing short-time deliveries – and this demonstrates once more that what’s greener is usually also better in other ways too.
An intelligent distributed stock model does require serious computing power: but that’s why we’ve built it into our end-to-end smart logistics platform. At 7bridges, many of our customers are well along the road to optimising their green performance through strategies like these.
When it comes to choosing and using delivery partners, businesses need to pay attention to the green credentials of the carriers. Some of course do better than others, and by adopting a multi-carrier mode of operation, a business can increase its ability to provide the eco-responsible delivery option to the customer.
As delivery technologies develop, some carriers will give electric vans and robotic vehicles a higher profile, and if you have access to an intelligent fulfilment process it can be tuned to seek and prefer these options when available.
Read more: Net-zero for supply chains and ISO 14083
Sustainability is an urgent issue, and rather than waiting for futuristic developments that are still at a visionary or prototype stage, businesses can do much to address it with the technology and tools that are available now.
This approach has the benefit of requiring little if any investment. It’s just a matter of thought, planning, better processes…and access to some powerful computing resources.
For businesses that have yet to find a way to tackle these issues, one thing is worth noting. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. While a few larger retailers have chosen to enhance their IT departments with an in-house AI capability, most organisations can opt for a far quicker, low-cost answer by adopting a purpose-built state-of-the-art, AI-powered logistics platform that’s already solving the problem for businesses around the world.