by Eric Dales
It’s no secret that e-commerce is growing fast — consumers all over the world are choosing to buy more online and have their purchase shipped directly to their door. The convenience is great, and it means that businesses like TAMGA can build relationships with customers all over the world (which we love!). But of course, convenience can come with a cost. We’ve been studying the environmental impact of producing our garments since day one, but the last leg of a garment’s journey on the way to a customer is somewhat unpredictable — after all, our customers can be found anywhere from Toronto to Tasmania.
Why We Ship Carbon Neutral
In order to take accountability for our shipping impact, we ran the data of our shipments and how they get to our customers — ie: road, truck or train. Ultimately, we made the decision to offset the carbon emissions of every TAMGA order we send. It’s not that these shipments are overwhelming in impact (the average TAMGA garment weighs only 200g), it’s just another way for us to lessen our overall enviromntal footprint.
The Background (e-Commerce Shipping is Growing Fast!)
Naturally, we’re all aware of the growth of online shopping. The knock-on effect is a huge number or parcels moving around on planes, trains and automobiles. The number of parcels being shipped worldwide nearly doubled from 2014 to 2017 and is expected to surpass 100 billion in 2020. In the USA alone, 377 parcels were shipped every second in 2017. There’s no doubt that all of this shipping has an environmental impact, but how concerned should we be?
It turns out that there are a couple of ways to look at this: the first is to compare the environmental impact of ordering online versus buying in-store. A responsible consumer should try and find the lowest impact way to shop — including how the item gets to them. Secondly, is there a more eco-friendly way to order an item online? Read on.
Is e-Commerce Greener than Brick and Mortar?
It would be pretty hard to slow down the shift to online parcel delivery, and it might not even be the right move; in most cases ordering online has a smaller net impact compared to brick and mortar retail (as long as it’s not a rush delivery). This is because the travel of a parcel is more efficient than your travel to the shops, and online stores have a smaller footprint than a physical location.
How to Limit the Environmental Impact of Online Shopping
Beware — when a parcel is shipped express, the ‘most efficient route’ practice goes out the window. The item is shipped to the consumer at the fastest possible way, often less efficient (ie: not bulk), and even air (almost 5 times the emissions of a truck). When you choose standard shipping the courier has time to plan the most efficient route, so don’t rush the shipment unless you need to!
High return rates are another easy way to boost e-commerce emissions. Online shopping sees average returns of 30%, with many customers using the ‘buy 3 return 2’ tactic. We’re fortunate at TAMGA to have an overall low return rate, however, we do offer free returns in North America in case our customers need a better size or change their mind. Part of the way we limit the impact of this is to ship all USA returns to one address in the states and send these parcels to Canada once every 2–3 months.
How We Ship Carbon Neutral
At this point in our research it was clear to us that, while we don’t want to open a shop and stop shipping to our customers, we don’t want to contribute to a growing problem either. We decided to offset the emissions for every TAMGA order by purchasing carbon offsets from the Gold Standard — the highest standard in the world for carbon offsets. For every metric ton of emissions that our shipments create, we buy a metric ton of offsets from the Gold Standard.
As some of you would know, we already donate 1% of all our sales to a re-forestation project in Sumatra, but the Gold Standard takes another, complementary approach. It only funds projects that focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy, as these projects encourage a shift away from fossil-fuel use as a whole. The Gold Standard also includes social and environmental indicators to ensure the offset projects contribute to sustainable development goals in the country where the project is based. Click here for a few examples of their projects.
Bonus: The Packaging Problem — What to do About e-Commerce and Waste
Here’s a great way to create a mountain of waste: take a product, put it in a clear plastic bag, place the bag into a box that’s slightly too large for it, fill the box with airbags so that it doesn’t fly around and get damaged. If this seems wasteful, you’re not alone. E-commerce has a huge packaging problem. While 90% of cardboard gets recycled, we’re still left with a mystery 10%. When we look at the plastic involved, it gets uglier. The average box is is dropped 17 times, forcing e-commerce brands to pack boxes full of extra bubble wrap and airbags for cushioning (literally shipping air).
What can you do about this? Ask your favourite brands if they use bio-degradable packaging. At TAMGA, we cut out plastic poly bags from the get-go, opting for a bag made from cassava starch that will compost, recycle or just break down in soil. Second, don’t order express. Like we mentioned above, it creates more emissions and rushed orders also lead to extra packaging so they arrive safe and fast. Finally, make a note in checkout for the order to have as little packaging as possible — you’d be surprised how many brands are happy to accomodate!