Two of the biggest retailers online, Amazon and eBay, are using different strategies to reduce the carbon footprint of their shipping process.
This post is in partnership with UPS
E-commerce accounts for 3 percent of all retail business in the United States, and while that may not sound like much, that figure translates to $1.4 billion in annual sales. Just as the organic food movement has shown, customers will pay extra to know the source of their food and the route it traveled to get to them. And with mailing and shipping, businesses can find carriers like UPS that offer eco-friendly transportation such as trucks that run on natural gas, alternative fuel vehicles, and carbon-neutral shipping options. Online retailers, perhaps inspired by the phenomenon, have realized that there are customers that might also pay a premium to know their online purchases took the greenest route possible.
In October 2010, Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, patented “environmentally conscious electronic transactions” that inform customers of the environmental impact caused by packaging and shipping their purchases, and offer them options that could reduce that carbon footprint. The patented system would allow customers to pay more in order to opt for slower delivery that puts the environment first. According to the patent, customers would be able to choose between carriers, opting for one that “places items onto vehicles with empty space that are already scheduled for a particular route.
Another option might be [a carrier] that always uses low-emission vehicles, but that may make several stops along the way and thus might take more time.” Amazon’s patent could also allow customers to buy carbon credits to offset the emissions caused by the delivery of their packages.
Although eBay doesn’t directly buy and sell, the e-commerce behemoth has also begun to take initiative to mitigate the environmental impact of its users. The company’s Green Team website reveals that an environmental consulting firm’s recent research concluded that “compared to a single big box retail store grossing $100 million per year, the day-to-day operations of $100 million in sales through small, Web-based businesses generate approximately 1,400 tons fewer CO2-equivalent emissions per year than their offline counterparts.”
One way eBay is helping to reduce the impact of so much shipping is by rolling out the “eBay Box” last fall. The program provided select sellers with 100,000 boxes in three sizes—all made from recycled content. eBay is planning to expand the program to about a million boxes, still a small fraction of the site’s 90 million users, but a start, says Annie Lescroart, an eBay sustainability communications senior manager.
Since most eBay buyers are also sellers, the Box constitutes a substantial reduction in wasted packaging for eBay users. “A seller out of Chicago who runs a designer consignment business has had the same box come back to her over and over,” Lescroart says. “She’s created a sort of closed loop.”
Image from Amazon.com