Environmentally conscious consumers have influenced many industries, from building and construction to restaurants. From increased use of eco-friendly and recycled packaging materials to greener shipping options with smaller carbon footprints to smarter packing practices, consumers are starting to demand sustainability when it comes to last-mile parcel delivery. Increasingly, they will hold retailers and eMerchants to higher “sustainability experience” standards.

Globally, 47 percent of consumers participating in the 2019 IPC Cross-Border E-Commerce Shopper Survey said they want parcel packaging to be recyclable, and 28 percent said they prefer carbon-neutral delivery. Interestingly, while speedy delivery is still important to most consumers, the survey found that 28 percent of respondents were willing to wait longer for their package to show up on the front porch if it meant it would reduce the environmental impact.

Sustaining budgets and sustainable shipping

Unfortunately for shippers, the same report revealed that while consumers would like greener deliveries, they were unwilling to pay extra for it. In fact, only 1 percent of survey respondents had paid extra for sustainable packaging, and 43 percent said they were unlikely to pay extra for sustainable deliveries. This desire for sustainable packaging and greener last-mile delivery at little to no extra cost is putting pressure on shippers to improve sustainable shipping while keeping costs down—not an easy trick to pull off.

However, it is possible for shippers to deliver sustainable shipping that consumers desire while holding costs down. Here are three ways:

1. Slow down shipping

Sure, many customers still want certain products such as groceries, some essentials, and urgent items sooner than later. However, Accenture’s 2019 Annual Holiday Local Shopping Survey showed that 50 percent of shoppers are willing to opt for greener delivery options even if that meant slower shipping lead times or in-store pickups in order to reduce the impact on the environment. This option allows retailers and other shippers to utilize a multi-carrier transportation management solution to rate shop and find cost-effective last-mile delivery, perhaps SmartWay-certified carriers, which may be greener and slower than typical carriers.

2. Pack efficiently and eco-friendly

Retailers can opt for recycled packaging materials and eco-friendly filling to help improve their shipping sustainability reputation and reduce their carbon footprint. Another way to help reduce not only waste but costs, is by packing more efficiently. A 2019 DHL report showed that “customers were increasingly agitated with wasteful and inefficient packaging” leading to “consumer derision — and dents to company reputation.” By packing items—either separately or grouping orders—into the right sized carton that is neither too big nor too small can not only reduce the number of shipments but also avoid carrier dimensional weight (DIM) fees at the same time, making your sustainable shipping not only better for the environment but for your brand and bottom line as well.

3. Develop a responsible returns plan

As more products are sold online and shipped more often, retailers and eCommerce businesses will also have an increased amount coming back. And with the returns process factoring into consumers’ initial buying decisions, a returns plan that takes the environment into account as much as it does costs, can give your company a competitive advantage given the growing number of eco-conscious shoppers. Whether it is replacing a less-expensive item without incurring the cost and environmental impact of return delivery or encouraging the re-use of original packaging, there are ways to incorporate your returns process into your sustainable shipping plan.

By using a parcel management solution that includes cartonization to ensure sustainable packing while providing consumers with the ability to choose greener carrier services, retailers can optimize their customers' sustainability experience and improve brand loyalty.

As more consumers shop as much with their conscience as they do their wallet, shippers who find ways to utilize sustainable shipping strategies, partnered with the right technology to manage it, can not only capture more customers, but do so cost-effectively.