As we enter the second quarter of 2021, the UK continues to live under social restrictions. Although these have gradually begun to ease, the rise in digital e-commerce isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

In 2019, physical stores were a £60.9 billion market, while online stores accounted for £22.3 billion. However, 2020 saw a 46 per cent growth in online sales – this being the greatest increase since 2008. While shopping from home is both convenient and less time consuming, from an environmental point of view, this is has caused some damaging effects to the environment. With more parcels and more deliveries being made to help cope with high demand, it’s important that you, as a business owner, look to adopt more environmentally friendly shipping and production processes.

Here, we look at how retailers can be more sustainable in 2021 and thereafter.

Pick your packaging carefully

Packaging has become so much more than just protection for the product – it has become a social media phenomena. The ‘unboxing’ craze has taken off on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram over recent years and has left people wanting an experience personal to them.

This trend doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon, but what impact does eye-catching packaging have on the environment? Around 12.7 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the ocean every year, harming sea life and damaging habitats.

The re-introduction of a bill that pledges to push for the ban of single-use items has been implemented to tackle the issues surrounding single-use plastic. And this is where retailers can come in.

Relying on paper packaging as oppose to plastic is a great way to become more sustainable without forfeiting quality or appearance. Since paper is recyclable, renewable, and biodegradable, there are many reasons why paper is a great alternative.  

As for other environmentally friendly alternatives, you could ditch plastic tape for a self-adhesive paper version and even switch protective materials such as bubble wrap with a paper alternative. With the demand for paper packaging continuing to increase, retailers can make use of this without worrying about ruining the safety and appearance of their packaging.

Transport choices

Transport is the most polluting sector in the UK. With this in mind, action is being taken on the sale of fuels, and responsible courier services are trying to find ways to reduce their pollution figures by turning to emission-free methods as opposed to relying on petrol and diesel.

So, before you base your courier decision on the most affordable or reliable service, consider one that has introduced green schemes too – ones you can benefit from now and in the future.

The vehicle used is not the only attribute to consider either. To help limit travel time, couriers can use a returnable transit packaging product like a plastic pallet. This increases vehicle fill by up to 40 per cent, making your business more efficient with deliveries and better for the environment.

Carbon offsetting: giving something back

You could also give the environment a helping hand by offsetting your emissions, and planting trees is one way you can do this. For example, after you reach a certain number of items sold, you plant one tree – this initiative will not only help you become more sustainable, but it shows customers that you value the planet by offsetting the emissions you’ve produced.

Across the country, there are charities that plant trees in towns and cities. Show your support to local and national causes by teaming up with a charity in an official partnership. It will also help encourage brand loyalty to your customers too.  

Furthermore, help your customers offset their own carbon emissions. There are a few ways you could do this. One way is to introduce reusability into the products you sell, for example, reusable cups and tote bags. Or, you could state that your packaging is recyclable and encourage them to recycle it after use.

That’s our list of ways retailers can be more sustainable in 2021. The immediate future of the industry may well live online, but an increase in deliveries doesn’t mean that becoming sustainable is an impossible task to achieve.


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