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Our first sector-specific climate action spotlight: E-Commerce

Our community is taking a step forward: sector-specific actions. Find out how our e-commerce members are stepping up their climate action and discover our new Climate Action Guide.

Sara Bettinelli
Sara Bettinelli
September 23, 2021 | 9 min

On Thursday 16th of September, we gathered with more than 200 guests from the e-commerce industry with a simple question: how can we use the potential of the LFCA community to help e-commerce companies speed up their climate action?

The answer is, of course, complex, which is why we provided three different pillars to reach our objectives. 

First, the knowledge - there are many businesses driving change, in and outside of our community, and there are many possible actions that can be taken. We decided that all this collective knowledge should have been summarized in a single place, and therefore with the help of our most active members and experts from the field, we have put together our first sector-specific climate action guide, which you can find here below.

In this guide, you can find more than 13 initiatives that any e-commerce can implement within 12 months. These are no theoretical projects: they are backed up by concrete business cases, readily available tools and calculators, step-by-step guidelines and up-to-date data. 

Then, hands-on expertise - No matter how much information it contains, a pdf doesn’t save the world, which is why in this event we brought on stage those who can really inspire change: experts in the field. Our speakers come from different backgrounds and companies, some are services, others are working directly in e-commerce companies.  They have experience working on most of the suggested initiatives and they shared insights on how to do it. 

To know more, you can check the video of the event, or read our summary below. 

Finally, community power. We believe that in a community that drives action, collaboration and cross-pollination of solutions is a superpower. This is why the event did not end in itself, but launched a more complex part of the project: mastermind groups. Our members will commit to some of the projects we presented, and they will meet together monthly to cooperate, talk with experts and share solutions. 

You can join the groups if you fill in the application before 11.10.21:

Highlights from the event - what did our experts say? 

We asked our experts to present some of the projects they are working on that were also reflected in the climate action guide. But of course, there is much more that they are doing, from reducing their products' footprint to making their offices environmentally friendly. Here below, however, you will find some project-specific insights.  

Patagonia - We are in business to save our planet

Patagonia is an e-commerce company that is working on establishing a new business model. The company plans to reduce, capture and mitigate all their carbon emissions by 2025, including their supply chain, and they are planning to have all their apparel products made from 100% recycled, reclaimed or renewable resources.

There is no room for climate deniers today and we need to do everything we can to drive change

A business should focus on the areas where they have the potential to drive change, which is why Patagonia is focusing on some bold projects that fall into their sphere of influence, as for example

  • Creating an Environmental Profit and Loss business strategy to make sure they “give more than they take”. 

  • Building projects with Worn Wear to encourage re-commerce of products to address the industry’s waste problem. To make the switch to a circular economy easier, they are also implementing projects to help extend the life of their products and creating reverse logistics flows for used or damaged products.

A practical takeaway → “Educate people internally on why sustainability is important, listen to their needs, reach alignment with stakeholders and this will allow you to make things moving.”

Finally, encouraging civil society in taking action is not only good for the planet but also for business: it allows them to reach out to communities and customers they had never reached before, to attract talents and to strengthen the bond with their community. - We want to make sustainable shopping easy for our customers is the biggest e-commerce platform in the Netherlands and Belgium. Since 2018, they included the impact of their products in their sustainability mission, which now takes into consideration the main parts of their carbon footprint: 

  • Packaging: They decided to sit with suppliers and partners to identify products that can be sent without packaging, optimizing the rest through special machines that will reduce the amount of material used for the boxes while at the same time avoiding shipping air. Following these optimization methods, more than 75% of their shipment is sent without filling materials.

  • Energy: Their fulfilment centres are climate-neutral and 100% on local solar and wind energy. To avoid additional logistics emissions,’s logistic partners can do the sorting directly in the warehouses and they are pressured to expand their electric fleets. 

  • Delivery: They communicate with their customers, giving them insights on the most sustainable delivery option on a certain purchase. 24% of their last mile is already done by foot and bike, but they are currently piloting same-day delivery done by bike. In another pilot project, they are offering customers to choose one delivery day for all the purchases, to avoid separate shipping.

We set sustainability requirements for our products that get checked externally, so that we are not the ones making the call on what is sustainable. 

  • Sustainability filters: They help customers identify through green labels and filters the most sustainable product in an assortment without extra knowledge on sustainability. For now 50% of their products group offers sustainable alternatives and they plan to raise the percentage to 100% by 2022. 

A practical takeaway → Identify your critical areas and set bold targets in a short period of time - you will start working on it right away.

Climate Partner - Identifying emissions hotspots is vital to reduce your emissions

Climate Partner is an organization expert in carbon accounting and they shared with the audience how to identify emissions hotspots, engage with suppliers and measure the full corporate carbon footprint.

When we talk about the e-commerce sector, it is vital to include transportation and distribution among the relevant categories as these are most likely big emissions hotspots. 

Logistics is a vital element of the emissions management of e-commerce companies: according to Climate Partner outbound logistics account for around 93% of the emissions of a typical e-commerce company. 

However, data collection and implementation of sustainable policies should not be only on the company’s shoulders: they advise involving as many stakeholders as possible and make them part of the process. In particular, when calculating the Product Carbon Footprint collaboration with suppliers is essential: in an example about wine products, correct PCF helped reduce the product footprint by 30%.

A practical takeaway → As an e-commerce company it is important to focus on the supply chain and carbon footprint of products. You can start by focusing on the specifics of the logistics, packaging and LCA of your top products and collect data on them. 

Finally, when choosing offsetting projects, you can decide to focus on carbon removal instead of mitigation or emission reduction. Carbon removal allows the long-term sequestration of carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere. When working on this type of project you can involve your customers in the process with a climate contribution at the check out that can help fund these projects. You can test this initiative on your website and adjust amounts and functionalities in a pilot phase.

Pack-it Eco - The impact of packaging adjustment and how to do it right. 

Pack-it Eco is an organization that helps companies switching to more sustainable packaging. When it comes to reducing packaging-related emissions, two are the main ways that a company can follow: introducing reusable packaging or optimizing single-use packaging in a way that makes it less environmentally impactful. 

Packaging can be optimized with reduction of space and material used ad also by switching from new material to recycled or more sustainable materials. To find the best option for you, you can run a pilot offering new packaging types on your e-commerce website. For example, you can offer the option to choose reusable packaging or packaging with alternative materials (for example mushrooms-based or seaweed-based), but it is advisable to run previous research on LCA and operational and financial impact. Pilots like this can take, according to Pack-it Eco, between 4 weeks and 4 months. 

In the meanwhile, there are also possible immediate actions that can improve your packaging, as for example using water-based ink, sustainability labels and eco-based sustainable materials.

Practical takeaway→ Implementing optimized packaging reduces not only the environmental impact but long term costs. Implementing reusable packaging is more complex and correct LCA is the key to make it work.

Elaboratum  - A small change in the context can lead to a major change in the behaviour.

Elaboratum is a digital consultancy that has behavioural design among its focuses. They applied this specific approach to returns in the e-commerce sector given the impact that this phenomenon has on both business and climate.  

200 thousand tonnes of CO2 are produced each year only in Germany by returns, despite many companies trying to lower their return rates. Elaboratum collaborated then in the world's largest return rates experiment with more than 100’000 online shoppers to test different behavioural design tools to lower their returns. 

We need to know the needs of the users to identify effective triggers. 

Sustainability measures work on a large scale only if they don’t have a negative impact on your business, which is why they also analysed variations on revenue rates of the websites in the experiment, noticing that some changes in behavioural design lowered returns and raised profit. The result of their study is that indeed some changes in the website can make individuals make more conscious decisions and then lower returns, without damaging the revenue of the company. 

One example is given in the image below, where they have been using different messages in a fashion e-commerce website to discourage customers from the same t-shirt in different sizes, to ultimately lower returns. In the test, they compared 3 types of nudges to discourage the customer from double buying: a standard one, one addressing environmental impacts and another addressing the loss of time that the customer would have faced in having to send back the clothes they would decide not to buy. Interestingly enough, addressing the damage to the environment as a consequence of back-and-forth shipments had the best results as it not only caused a decrease in returns but also an increase in revenue of more than 3% (which, in an e-commerce company with 10mln euros revenue, equals >300.000).

Practical takeaway → The whole experiment results will be provided to LFCA for free so stay tuned!

Now it is your turn to step in!

In October we start running Mastermind Groups - set once a month for the next year, this is the place for you to share the insights and solve the challenges coming your way, while you work on sustainable initiatives in your company. The group dynamic and special methodology will help you to achieve your goals through a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability and support. Fill in the application form: