In the last 25 years, online shopping has taken the world by storm – growing to a multi-trillion dollar industry that’s used globally, and is part of every-day life for billions of people. Research from a group named Statista found that 20% of people shop online once a week, and 31% of people shop online once a month. Why? Because it is convenient, quick, and accessible. And that was BC – Before COVID. E-commerce as a whole is expected to grow by nearly 20% in 2020. As an online brand ourselves, we love that online shopping has helped people access things they might not have otherwise. But as a sustainable business, it’s important to look at how some companies operate – and impact our planet. We’ll dive into four main topics below: labor, materials, packaging, and transportation.
The rapid growth in the E-commerce industry has created a sizable increase in jobs, both locally and globally, across all sectors of the industry. That sounds like a good thing, right? It is, and it isn’t. To keep costs down and productivity high, some companies are limiting employee breaks, setting unrealistic (and sometimes unsafe) performance expectations, and prioritizing profits over people in their distribution warehouses and offices. This also occurs further down the supply chain, at the production and manufacturing level. Products for some companies can be sourced from unvetted distributors abroad that violate American labor laws – paying employees extremely low wages, having them work in unsafe conditions, and other labor rights abuses.
By keeping labor costs down, and productivity high in material sourcing, manufacturing, production, and distribution, companies are able to offer the lowest-cost products to their customers – which is great for the customer, but not the lives of the people who helped get those products to their door.
Next comes materials. As mentioned above, labor and materials sourcing are intertwined. But there’s more to the story! To further keep costs down and maximize profit, some companies utilize low-quality materials and materials harvested in unsustainable ways for their products. This keeps costs for the company down, but has a bigger cost for the environment. This includes potentially toxic chemicals, like phthalates, parabens, BPA, and so many more. Because sustainable materials like organically grown cotton or FSC Certified wood can cost more to produce and harvest, and therefore cost more to sell, companies instead opt for cheaper and less eco-friendly alternatives to offer the lowest possible prices. Lower quality materials often create lower quality products, which don’t last long – forcing the customer to continually repurchase, sending money right back to the company (and creating tons of waste!).
Next comes packaging! Have you ever ordered something small online, but when it arrives, it’s in a huge box with tons of plastic, styrofoam, or bubble wrap? Same. Most of the time, the packaging that arrives with your product is immediately discarded, heading straight to the landfill (or to be recycled when possible!). Unfortunately, things like styrofoam, packing peanuts, or thin plastic bubble wrap and film can’t be recycled. In 2015, the majority of solid waste in landfills was from packaging, estimated to be about 77.9 million tons (29.7% of total generation!) – a number that has only gone up since then. And as the E-commerce industry grows, so does the amount of boxes, envelopes, bubble wrap, product packaging, tape and labels. Companies not concerned with the environmental element of packaging will opt for the cheapest version – which is usually single-use, non-recyclable plastic packaging – which they will then have packed quickly for productivity, leaving us with the little-product-big-box dilemma.
Online shopping has come a long way in terms of shipping, and now most consumers expect inexpensive, quick shipping of products right to their door. According to the National Retail Federation, 51% of global retailers offer same-day delivery (with even more offering 1 or 2 day delivery), and the value of items delivered same day is expected to increase 40x in the next 4 years. While we love the convenience associated with this, there are some hidden costs you may not think about.
The transportation (planes, trucks, boats, vans, and maybe soon, drones!) needed to get these products from the source of the materials, to the production site, to the distribution site, then rapidly from the distribution site (or multiple sites) to your door creates a ton of emissions. The transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and primarily uses non-renewable petroleum-based fossil fuels. Greenhouse gases have been linked to human-caused climate change, and a myriad of other environmental consequences.
What sets EarthHero apart?
Okay – that was a lot of doom and gloom. It’s clear that traditional E-commerce has led to a slew of social and environmental issues. But there is a better way. Companies like EarthHero, and the 170+ ethical brands we showcase, have found new, sustainable ways to provide the same convenient E-commerce experience you love, without damaging our planet and the people on it.
When it comes to labor, our brands utilize safe and fair labor – that means ethical wages, healthy working environments, employee benefits, and so much more. From sourcing the materials, to creating the products, to distributing shipments, EarthHero focuses on how this would impact the people and the communities involved. Transparency is key. This means knowing who, what, where, and how things happen in every step of the process. We support local USA businesses, family-owned businesses, businesses abroad with fair labor and wages, startups, and more.
We believe a product is not truly sustainable unless the materials or ingredients involved are both sourced and produced ethically. This means looking for certifications: USDA Certified organic cotton, OEKO-Tex Certified dyes, FSC Certified wood – you name it. It also means saying “no” to certain materials or ingredients that are deemed unsafe, unhealthy, and unsustainable. While this often increases the raw cost of materials, that cost is an investment in a system prioritizing sustainable, high-quality products. The products on our site are vetted through our 5-step methodology to ensure they’re sustainably made and will promote your sustainable lifestyle.
Bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts? No thanks. EarthHero instead opts for compostable and recyclable product packaging. Our shipping boxes are made from post-consumer recycled materials, and are recyclable after use (or reusable!). We also reuse many boxes and packaging materials that come into our warehouse from our brands, extending the life of these resources. Our shipping tape is made with plastic-free paper, and the fill paper we use for your orders is plastic-free and recyclable as well. Our paper inserts are also made from post-consumer recycled materials! We thoughtfully pack each order in a box that’s sized correctly for the products you ordered – meaning less fill paper is needed.
Transportation in online shopping (or any shopping, really) is unavoidable. But there is a better way to do it! Every single EarthHero order is shipped carbon neutral through Carbonfund.org, offsetting our carbon emissions with projects that sequester carbon. We choose not to offer same-day or next-day delivery due to increased transportation costs and emissions associated with doing so -although 80% of our orders are shipped out of our Boulder, Colorado warehouse the same business day it’s placed (meaning your order will still arrive quickly!)
As E-commerce becomes the new norm, we’re on a mission to make sustainable online shopping just as easy, accessible, and designed with your lifestyle in mind. We do things differently than the other guys, because we aren’t the other guys. We are EarthHero. We hope you’ll join us, and become an Earth hero too.