Once viewed as a costly exercise, sustainability is being embraced by a growing number of retailers as a strategy that delivers cost savings and satisfies the demands of consumers.
Companies are exploring automation tools to reduce the amount of packaging used, trying to find alternatives to plastic, and looking to install solar panels to reduce their carbon footprint.
With the rise of the conscious consumer, more ecommerce retailers are putting the time and the effort into making sure they have more sustainable practices. Some have found it can be the decider between a customer buying off their site or a competitor’s.
To chart a more sustainable path and manage the increased consumer scrutiny of their business practices, retailers are also hiring more professionals whose main responsibility is to manage the ethical side of the business. Others are embedding sustainable practices into their DNA.
Flora and Fauna is an ecommerce retailer that prides itself on stocking only vegan, ethical and cruelty-free products. It was founded in 2014 by Julie Mathers, a retail veteran with 26 years of retail experience working for giants like Coles and Woolworths.
Flora and Fauna started out retailing cosmetics and skincare, but now sells homewares, reusable items and sustainable fashion.
Before she started Flora and Fauna, Mathers was frustrated with the lack of ethical practices in retail and a lack of focus on environmental causes.
“There are so many facets to being a sustainable and responsible business and what I wanted to create was a business that was sustainable in every decision that we make or trying to do the very best we can,” Mathers told Which-50.
She said being an “ethical” company doesn’t necessarily mean additional costs — but it depends on how you budget.
Mathers explained, “We budget to be a sustainable business so we know we are going to give X amount of money to charity, and we plan and forecast for that.”
Well-established ecommerce companies such as Adore Beauty and The Iconic are also examining how to make their businesses more sustainable.
Last September, ecommerce cosmetics company Adore Beauty installed new warehouse management software to assist the company in cutting down packaging through volumetric calculation.
Kate Morris, CEO and founder of Adore Beauty, said it was a big project — taking the best part of eight months to get everything in place. To use the volumetric system, they needed to scan more than 13,000 products to get the dimensions and weights into the system.
With that in place the system can calculate which is the smallest possible box required for each order.
She said, “This enabled us to create a smaller box — which is made from recycled content — and that’s allowed us to significantly cut down the amount of cardboard we use. But also from a carbon footprint perspective we can fit so many more orders into each Australia Post crate.”
Morris explained there are other benefits to being sustainable. For one, it saves a tonne of money.
She said, “Actually the boxes are cheaper and take up less space, so it has reduced our shipping costs. It’s more efficient in the warehouse because they can fit more of those boxes into each shipping cage before they have to go onto the truck.”
Apart from cutting down packaging, Morris is looking at solar power for her workplace as she wants to reduce the company’s footprint in any way she can. She also wants to cut down on plastics and will most likely have conversations with her suppliers to see if they can do the same.
Doing Well By Doing Good
Online fashion giant The Iconic made sustainability one of its key strategic pillars in 2017, which led to the creation of its first sustainability strategy the following year.
Jaana Quaintance-James, Head of Sustainability and Ethical Sourcing at The Iconic, said the company has implemented a four-pillar sustainability strategic business plan covering ethical sourcing, environment, community, and governance.
She explained, “This plan guides everything we do — whether it’s the impact of our own operations on the physical environment, to looking at how we contribute to the social fabric of the community in which we operate.
“Some of these initiatives have included: implementing a program to ensure decent working conditions in the international factories that produce our private label brands; conducting our first carbon footprint baseline and energy audit; investigating solutions for a more sustainable packaging alternative; and assessing the feasibility of solar roof panels in our fulfilment centre.”
Quaintance-James said The Iconic has a number of sustainable initiatives on the way.