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When we at Columbus started discussing sustainability and its connections to e-commerce many years ago it was still something that was considered challenging. Since then, a lot has happened and sustainability has become part of our vision statement "Digital transformation for a better tomorrow", and we now see that sustainability is a question of survival, both for our planet and for the existence of businesses.

As a new generation of consumers and workers take their place in the world, the demands on companies to take responsibility for these issues are increasing. Sustainability-work is full of dilemmas, fears, preconceived notions, and prejudices and there is no straight path to success in this area. However, one thing is clear. It is time for the debate on e-commerce and sustainability to properly be discussed. Because we believe in a future where e-commerce and sustainability go hand in hand.

What will you learn in this blog series?

We want to draw attention to some areas we see as important around ​​sustainable e-commerce, regardless of the type of business in question. At Columbus, our UX and sustainability expert Robert Wallis has been a driving force in these issues that are steadily increasing in importance. We urge all players in e-commerce to get involved in this area and we also urge research to examine all the unresolved issues and dilemmas that still exist to clarify which paths we should walk in the future.

E-commerce may not be the first industry you think of when it comes to sustainability. Traditionally this industry is built on low prices, convenience, and fast deliveries which means that sustainability issues have taken a back seat. But does sustainability and e-commerce have to be mutually exclusive?

The tide must change. The recent IPCC  report was a global alarm call that the world cannot ignore. Consumers are now more conscious about sustainability and how the choices they make have an impact on the environment.

Sustainability can be good for business

Consumers are increasingly demanding that the companies they buy from act responsibly and offer ecological products and logistical solutions. If these choices are not there, then they will be less likely to use that company and search for an alternative. In the recent Sustainable Brand Index report, research showed that “68–77% of consumers are affected by sustainability when making a purchasing decision.” This is based on research from five European countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands).

Let's take a look at the younger generation. Millions of young activists have joined Greta Thunberg in the Fridays for Future movement. They are demanding that governments and businesses take direct action to meet the climate obligations set out in the Paris agreement. Research also shows that young consumers want to buy from companies that are socially responsible and contribute to a positive impact on the world. If they feel that these businesses are truly delivering on these promises, it will mean loyal customers and increased profits.

Does the internet itself have a carbon footprint?

It is a general misconception that digital always means green, for example, e-books are better than physical books. The fact is websites use electricity in data centers, transmission networks, and user’s devices. In a 2015 report, it was stated that “CT (communication technology) electricity usage could contribute up to 23% of the globally released greenhouse gas emissions in 2030.”

So, what can we do with e-commerce solutions to enable businesses to reach these sustainable goals and provide the service that customers expect? In this forthcoming blog series, we will look at three key areas that we have identified for a more sustainable e-commerce. This is UX (User Experience), logistics and packaging, and web energy efficiency.


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