This article has been contributed by Rodney Laws.
In 2020, sustainability permeates everything we do. It’s in the news every day, climate change marches occur around the world, and environmentalism is being taught in schools everywhere.
In short, sustainability matters. But what does this mean for businesses?
Businesses around the world all have their role to play in the fight against climate change. For existing companies, this means retrofitting elements and evaluating current practices.
But for new businesses, this means building sustainability into your core from scratch.
If you’re looking to create an online presence for your brand in 2020, it’s important that you build sustainability into it wherever possible. Read on to find out why, and how.
The Importance of Sustainability in 2020
Sustainability is more than just a fad — it’s a genuine trend that is slowly becoming entrenched in every aspect of our lives.
As temperatures increase and sea levels rise, all of our lives will be impacted. As a result, we all have a part to play in the fight against climate change. From governments and big corporations to small businesses and individual consumers, the onus is on all of us to embrace sustainability wherever we can.
But for businesses, sustainability is about more than just doing your bit for the planet — it’s about winning over customers too.
Sustainability isn’t just a moral or ethical commitment to the planet — it’s also a significant USP for prospective customers too. As the world grows ever more eco-conscious, consumers increasingly demand environmental credentials from the brands they shop with too.
Exemplary Sustainable Brands
Whether you’re starting an online store from scratch or looking to build it into your existing presence, it’s worth looking to existing brands for inspiration. Here are a few examples to get you started.
Panda Sunglasses is a US-based brand that sells shades made out of 100% sustainable bamboo — hence the name. The industry is rife with cheap, disposable sunglasses, so a product made out of such an eco-friendly material is a breath of fresh air.
Image source: Panda Sunglasses
As well as relying on sustainable materials for its product, Panda Sunglasses also operates a charity donation scheme too. For every pair of sunglasses sold, the brand donates a portion of the proceeds to one of several different charities, environmental and otherwise.
It’s a blend of sustainable business practices and charitable initiatives that embodies environmentalism to its core.
Selling a range of natural and organic body products, Seed Phytonutrients places great emphasis on sustainability. The company sources ingredients from independent organic farmers and uses local seeds in order to reduce its carbon footprint on the planet.
Image source: Seed Phytonutrients
But what really sets Seed Phytonutrients apart from the crowd is its eco-friendly packaging. The brand has created the first-ever paper bottle that can be used in the shower. Every element of the bottle is recycled, and the internal plastic liner means it contains 60% less plastic than a standard shower product bottle.
It is this pioneering attitude towards waste that puts Seeds Phytonutrients at the forefront of the industry, and sets a good example of what brands need to do to reduce our overall impact on the planet.
The beauty and cosmetics industry isn’t generally known for its sustainable credentials — for many years, lots of brands used whale blubber in lipstick, for example.
Thankfully, some brands have embraced more animal-friendly ingredients in their cosmetics, and Aether Beauty is a prime example.
Image source: Aether Beauty
Aesther Beauty uses entirely vegan products in its beauty and cosmetics range. Every ingredient is also sourced from ethical and fair-trade farms. If the brand is unable to find a grower or supplier of an ingredient that is fair-trade and ethical, it eschews using the ingredient altogether.
As if that wasn’t enough, the actual boxes that Aether Beauty’s products are presented in are 100% recyclable. When you consider that most other beauty brands use plastic boxes to present their products, this is a thoughtful and forward-thinking touch.
Create a Sustainable, Eco-Friendly Business Infrastructure
It’s easy to forget that the infrastructure of your online presence can be unsustainable too. From your hardware to your software, it all requires energy in varying degrees — even your web hosting has an impact on the planet.
It is your web hosting that plays an important part in the sustainability of your online presence.
Your website is hosted on servers, servers that demand significant amounts of energy in order to operate. As a result, their carbon footprint on the planet is substantial.
However, there are ways for web hosting services to reduce this carbon footprint, either through carbon offsetting or by using renewable energy.
Some web hosting services use only renewable energy to power their servers — GreenGeeks is one such example, amongst others. This is arguably the most sustainable option, as it does not create a carbon footprint at any point.
Image source: GreenGeeks
Some services, on the other hand, rely on carbon offsetting initiatives to mitigate their carbon footprint. These consist of dedicated programs that actively reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere, for example by planting trees. Web hosting companies use these to create the same or more amount of energy that is used by their servers.
If you truly want to build sustainability into your online presence, you need to go beyond customer-visible elements. While your web hosting isn’t a core part of your USP, it shows that you go beyond paying lip service to environmentalism — you embrace it.
Look for Sustainable Packaging Alternatives
Packaging is one of the biggest problem areas for businesses in terms of sustainability.
We generate tonnes of waste every year through non-recyclable or non-compostable packaging such as single-use plastic.
But as the threat of climate change grows, an increasing number of eco-friendly packaging alternatives have entered the market.
Naturally, recyclable materials such as cardboard are the most popular eco-friendly alternatives. These are often the most affordable and accessible choices for brands, but there are more unique solutions to the tricky question of sustainable packaging too.
Biodegradable materials negate the need for single-use packaging, mitigating the creation of waste into the process. These eco-friendly alternatives extend to inks too, with vegetable-based dyes offering brands a natural alternative with a reduced impact on the planet.
Build Sustainability into Your Branding
If you’re building an online presence with sustainability at its core, you need to go beyond simply paying lip service to it — you need to build it into the essence of your brand.
You can adopt sustainability by taking motivation from experts on how you run the rest of your business — look at it as a journey that you and your customers are going on together and build that into your brand story.
Your content strategy is a powerful channel in which you can tell the story of your brand’s sustainability commitments. Provide value and insight in an engaging way, and you will have a platform on which you can back up your eco-friendly ethos.
For example, you could create a series of explainer videos that outline your eco-friendly business practices. If you make the switch to biodegradable packaging, for instance, you could create a short clip that teaches your customers about how to dispose of it correctly.
In the same vein, you could also offer news and updates on sustainability issues related specifically to your industry. By providing expert insights into environmental issues that matter to your target audience, you position yourself as an authority and show customers that you genuinely embrace your sustainability ethos.
Implement an Environmental CSR Strategy
As a business operating in 2020, a solid corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy is crucial. CSR refers to the activities that a business does in order to be socially responsible.
For example, a brand might hold regular food drives in order to help out a local homeless charity. This gives back to the community while boosting a business’s public image into the bargain.
Beyond this, a positive CSR strategy also helps reduce the impact of potential bad publicity. With the spotlight of social media always present, it’s easy for a brand to run afoul and risk having a PR crisis on its hands.
This is as true for big brands as it is for small brands, but a great CSR strategy will help mitigate that.
In terms of sustainability, a CSR strategy could incorporate any number of things. On a basic level, you could partner with a local green charity and collaborate with them. You could raise money by having your team volunteer on a river cleanup, for example. Or you could hold an internal team event and give the proceeds to this charity.
On the other end of the scale, in the same way that some web hosting services use carbon offsetting to make up for their impact, you could also invest in carbon offsetting initiatives in order to mitigate your business’s impact on the planet.
For instance, if your product manufacturing or shipping has a sizable impact on the planet, you could pay for trees to be built overseas for every product sold. These are just examples of course. Depending on your business, your budget might limit your options. But it’s worth thinking about nonetheless — whatever your budget can afford is enough to grow your CSR strategy.
Empower Customers to be Sustainable Too
When you build your online presence, it’s easy to forget that it’s a two-way system. While you manage your website and social channels and email marketing and so on, it’s important to remember that there is another party involved in the process: your customers.
At the end of the day, your customers are what keep your business going. They are the lifeblood of your business and consequently, it’s crucial that you empower them to embrace sustainability too.
This could be a small incentive, for example, by offering free or cheaper prices on longer delivery times. This reduces the need for rapid delivery and ensures items can be sent out in bulk, rather than sending out a single courier (with a gas-guzzling vehicle) to deliver a single item.
You could also install a green giving plugin at your checkout with a plugin like CharityCheckout.
Image source: CharityCheckout
These let customers add an extra donation to their order at checkout which then goes towards a green charity of your choice.
This isn’t to say your customers should be doing your work for you — far from it. But empowering your customers to embrace environmentalism realizes their role in your business and enhances your customer community into the bargain.
Consider the Offline Aspects of Your Online Presence
Every online presence has its offline aspects. For instance, even if you’re running a blog, you need a place to work, and that place often has an impact in the real-world too.
To that end, think about your offline presence too. Do you have a good recycling system in place? Are you a paperless office? Do you use energy-saving light bulbs?
Even if you use a third-party office like a coworking space, think about their green initiatives too. Can you really call yourself a sustainable business if you don’t have the physical presence to back it up?
In the same way that your CSR strategy matters for your brand’s public image, so too does your offline presence impact your online one. In short, you can’t talk the talk if you don’t walk the walk.
Get Started Now
With climate change looming to the fore, it’s up to everyone to do their bit. While big corporations certainly have the budgets and resources behind them in order to make a difference, even smaller businesses can incorporate environmental principles into their core.
If you’re building an online presence in 2020, it’s important that you make it as sustainable as possible wherever you can.
From eco-friendly packaging and green corporate social responsibility initiatives to environmentally-minded content and an online presence that empowers customers to be sustainable, there is a myriad of things you can do.
Follow the tips and create an online presence that is as green as it can possibly be in 2020.
About the author: Rodney Laws built his first website over 18 years ago. He reviews the best website platforms on his site, ecommerceplatforms.io.