What is the carbon footprint of my store?

The emissions of an online store can be broken into a few categories.

Business related emissions

This includes business travel and energy usage.

E-commerce emissions

Packaging, freight and delivery are the three main elements of e-commerce’s footprint.

Product and suppliers

This is the products you’re selling and where they are produced.

Business related emissions

Travel

When we fly, we produce lots of emissions. If you’re flying for business regularly it could easily be the largest part of your footprint.

Take a flight from New York to London for example. A round trip produces 1800kg of emissions. An average e-commerce sale in the US would produce about 1.4kg of emissions (MIT).

That flight would produce the same climate pollution as 1285 deliveries!

There are lots of carbon calculators you can use to work out the emissions of any flying or road travel you’re taking.

Energy

Besides travel, energy is the other important part of any business carbon footprint.

Keeping the lights, internet and heating on takes lots of energy. If this energy comes from coal, gas and oil, then it’s contributing to climate change.

The good news is that many power retailers are offering 100% renewable energy, all it takes is switching companies. Better yet, why not make energy yourself with some solar panels on the roof!

E-commerce emissions

The footprint of your online store will vary based on what you’re selling, the size of your store and the way your items are packaged and delivered.

It will also depend on where your customer base is, how much they use impatient or rushed delivery and how often they return things.

Packaging, freight and delivery are the three main components of an e-commerce sale (MIT, 2013). Data centres and other emissions make up only a small portion of the footprint (see diagram to the right).

Bigger stores are more efficient

Consumers shopping at global retailers like Walmart and Amazon will produce 17% fewer emissions compared to brick and mortar stores. They achieve this by increasing efficiencies on a global scale (Generation).

Smaller stores come out slightly more emissions-intensive than bricks and mortar stores – due in large part to less efficient last mile delivery.

The good news is, whatever the size of your store, there are things you can do to make yourself more sustainable.

Carbon footprint comparison of US online shopping vs traditional shopping (MIT, 2013)

Products and supply chain

Suppliers

The products you sell all have a carbon footprint but working it out is no simple matter.

It’s easier to work how close the suppliers are to the area in which you’re selling and try and reduce it. Greater distances mean bigger footprints.

Also, have a look at the sustainability credentials of the suppliers you choose. See if you can find out if your suppliers are recycling, minimizing waste and using renewable energy.

Type of products

The type of products you’re selling also affect your footprint.

  • Consumer electronics (bulkier, more protective packaging required)
  • Clothing (low or no packaging, higher return rate)
  • Shoes (moderate packaging, higher return rate)
  • Accessories & toys (low dollar value, small profile, medium packaging)

How can I reduce the impact of my store?

Here are CarbonClick’s top tips to go green.

Travel sustainably (or not at all)

Taking regular business flights will likely eclipse the rest of your store’s emissions. Try video conferencing, combining trips, and if you really have to fly, then offset.

Power up with renewable energy

Whether it’s for your home, office or business, change to an energy retailer who offers 100% renewable energy.

Keep your suppliers local

Move your supply chain closer to the end consumer and source products and materials from suppliers who are nearer to you.

Use sustainable data hosting

Choose from the growing number of providers offering carbon neutral and renewable powered hosting options.

Reduce customer returns

Reduce returns and extra freight miles, by taking better photos and videos of your products. For more on reducing returns check out this guide.

Reduce your personal footprint

Be the change you wish to see in the world. Offset your life with a monthly subscription, eat and commute sustainably and get yourself a compost bin! For more tips, check out our guide.

How can I reduce the footprint of my store’s items?

Change your packaging

Packaging makes up at least half of the footprint of an online sale.

Cardboard and paper is the most sustainable choice. What’s more, a study found that 1/3 of consumers were choosing products based on environmentally friendly packaging.

Activity Impact CO2 generated
EPS (foam/polystyrene packaging) 4.0g Co2 per gram
PVC (clear plastic) 2.45g Co2 per gram
Cardboard 1.45g Co2 per gram
Paper 0.123g Co2 per gram

 

Reduce fast delivery & returns

Fast deliveries add a significant increase to the carbon footprint of your store.

If possible, avoid offering fast delivery. Explain to customers that regular delivery is more sustainable, and efficient.

Activity Environmental Impact Carbon footprint of sale
Regular delivery 1.5kg CO2e
Regular delivery, quick return 1.7g CO2e
Impatient delivery 2.0kg CO2e
Impatient delivery, quick return 2.2kgCO2e

 

Reduce your freight packaging

Freight makes up 10-33% of the carbon footprint of an e-commerce sale.

One way to reduce this footprint is by reducing the size of your packaging. If an item can be sent in a smaller box, for instance, it will save space on the transport, making it a more efficient delivery. This will also help save money!

Activity Impact CO2 generated
Air freight 1.057g CO2e per km/kg
Car freight 233g CO2e per km
Parcel carrier 332g CO2e per km
Truck 0.204g CO2e per km