In this series, we’re getting to know the authors of The Sustainable Ecommerce Handbook, our ebook on building green and lean online stores, available to download for free directly from The Ecomm Manager.
This time, we’re introducing you to Krissie Leyland and Rich Bunker, founders of MindfulCommerce.
Krissie and Rich have worked in the eCommerce world for a number of years, specifically in marketing and technology. As a result, both have become aware of the issues facing the environment and want to do everything they can to make eCommerce more sustainable.
Here Krissie and Rich tell us what inspired them to launch their community, reveal the carbon emissions of every single tweet and email, and recommend ways eCommerce managers can help make their brands more sustainable.
What’s the aim of MindfulCommerce?
MindfulCommerce is a community of businesses that are coming together to fight climate change and move towards a more positively impactful eCommerce industry. We want e-commerce to exist in harmony with the environment and make sure that it's not harming the planet. To help make that happen, we have created an open and free community, a sustainability framework, and an expert directory. Ecommerce is growing really fast, which opens loads of exciting opportunities. We just need to ensure we’re doing it right.
We want to bring people's attention to all the technology that can help them grow more sustainably and hopefully even pivot their eCommerce businesses to use more sustainable practices. That's the focus of MindfulCommerce.
There’s a lack of awareness of the technology that’s available. Brands often just don't know about it. Our community connects brands to the technology and also to any experts – agencies and freelancers – in the eCommerce industry who can help them grow. Small businesses tend to be really busy and don’t have time to find the right experts. That’s where we come in.
What are the main challenges the ecommerce industry is faced with when it comes to its impact on the planet?
The biggest problem is the promotion of over-consumption, which leads to lots of products being shipped and also returned. Ecommerce packaging is responsible for a significant amount of carbon emissions and accounts for 30 percent of solid waste being generated in the US alone. About 165 billion packages are shipped in the US each year. That's a billion trees worth of cardboard!
These stats are from Gerry McGovern, author of World Wide Waste. Gerry really opened our eyes to the digital footprint of eCommerce and the internet in general. You just don’t realize how damaging using the internet can be in terms of data storage. Data centers are not all powered by renewable energy, and there’s also the electrical waste because servers need updating every once in a while.
Around 1.6 billion trees would need to be planted to offset the pollution caused just by email spam, so we need to send fewer email newsletters and delete any that we don't need. Most of us these days are on a server- or cloud-based email provider like Gmail, and storing those emails is taking up server space, which could be used for other internet traffic or more important data storage. The less emails you're storing, the less energy is being used.
A tweet, for instance, is about 0.2 grams of carbon, an email is about four grams, and an SMS text message is about 0.014 grams, so SMS marketing might be a slightly less impactful way to do your marketing. As research shows that SMS open rates are as high as 98 percent compared to just 20 percent of all emails, it's something to consider for your marketing tactics. It enables you to focus on just the information, which can convey your message easier to your customers than an email full of images, videos, and fancy graphics.
There are also ways to reduce the impact of your website. Sustainable apparel company Organic Basics, for example, have an amazing low-impact site. They use low-res images or just illustrations to create the least impactful website they can supply to still be able to service their customers, which is truly amazing.
Organic Basics’ head of tech, Jesper Hyldahl Fogh, has written an article on their low impact manifesto for our Sustainable Ecommerce Handbook.
What’s your chapter about?
We explore the rise of sustainable e-commerce and delve into six steps that any eCommerce merchants can take to ensure that their brand is keeping pace with a desire for a more sustainable eCommerce industry. These six steps are taken from our sustainability framework, which we developed to help provide a super-informative, easy-to-digest guide for eCommerce businesses, not just merchants but also tech and service providers, that they can use to follow and navigate sustainability in their business.
The six pillars are…
- Mindful Business: the way you do business in a sustainable way.
- Mindful Footprint: how to green your operations.
- Mindful Sourcing: anything you can do to improve your sourcing in terms of sustainability and ethics.
- Mindful Products: how your products can make a difference in the world.
- Mindful Deliveries: packaging and fulfillment, one of the biggest things that we want to tackle, and finally...
- Mindful Communication: how to use your voice to clearly communicate your message and what you're doing in terms of sustainability, so that other people can follow in your footsteps.
For each pillar, we provide quick wins and big wins, real-life examples, and link to people and tech who can help you.
How can ecommerce managers get started and help make their brand more sustainable?
Be honest and transparent about your challenges within sustainability – what you're doing, what you hope to do, and what you hope to work towards. Help your customers understand your values and how they align with you, and also be really transparent about your packaging and how you can recycle or repurpose it. It’s all about raising awareness.
It's also important to be clear that maybe your packaging isn't the most sustainable or recyclable but, with your customers’ help, you'd like to make that change in the future.
Also, send fewer emails. That's really easy to do. No more unnecessary little thank you or see you there emails. Don't be pressured into sending weekly email newsletters just because you think that's what you're expected to do. Another tip we learned from Gerry is that you could make a point to your customers that you're only going to send six emails a year because of the impact. Just by letting them know you set expectations and build awareness. Finally, consider hosting a website with renewable energy and follow Organic Basics’ guidelines.
How do the brands in your community innovate to make a difference and be more sustainable and socially impactful?
The brands in our community are open-minded, curious, creative, and always mindful and considerate of how they're impacting the environment. Finisterre, for example, were looking for a packaging solution that would just disappear. As it didn’t exist, they created it!
They collaborated with another company called Aquapak to produce a biodegradable and recyclable Leave No Trace packaging that dissolves in water. They have made it open-source, so other businesses can use it as well. They’re genuinely wanting to help other brands. Organic Basics’ code is open source, too, so anybody could build a low-impact website with it. It goes back to the pillar of transparency, communication, and building awareness. That's what I like most about the brands in our network: They're not secretive but open and clear so that other people can do the same.
They're also very collaborative and realize they can't do it on their own. That's part of why they've joined the community: They can access people who are like-minded and in the same space, so they can work together. Humans have worked together throughout history to achieve great things. If you do it alone, you'll struggle.
How can people join your community and get more involved?
Go to mindfulcommerce.io, click on “Community” and fill in your name and email address. We’ll then send you an email with instructions on how to join the Facebook group and Slack channel.
If you want to get listed in the directory, it's more about supporting us as a movement and helping us build awareness of the issues in eCommerce and how we can solve them together in a collaborative way. If you'd like to support us as an expert or a brand, then you can email us at email@example.com for more information.
Finally, if you want to find some experts to help you grow your business, then go to mindfulcommerce.io/directory.
Learn more about all our authors and download The Sustainable Ecommerce Handbook for free!