There was a time, now long behind us, when companies could engage in wasteful and short-sighted practices as a matter of course, without the public being any the wiser. Fast-forward to today, however, and it’s extremely difficult to brush aside ethical and environmental responsibility.
To put it another way, companies need to clean up their act and keep it clean — because there’s no way to fake it anymore.
Shipping is a key area in business where companies can recover waste and make progress toward going green. It’s also an area where even modest changes can bring you financial savings and renewed success. Here are five places to start.
1. Use Sustainable and Recycled Materials
There are packaging-specific certifications from all over the world that can help companies spot recycled and eco-friendly packaging products. These include NSF Sustainability Certification, certification from the Forest Stewardship Council and many others.
The case for achieving these certifications makes itself. As an example, the U.S. uses an estimated 42 million bulk bags every year — and that’s just one type of shipping container. Choosing a partner who shares your environmental values, and replacing your shipping containers with sustainable and reusable alternatives, will keep a huge amount of waste out of our landfills.
Choosing sustainable shipping cartons, case packs and other packaging materials sometimes comes at a premium. But your business receives tradeoffs in the form of a higher perceived value among your downstream partners and greater trust and admiration from your customers, whose loyalty you help ensure when you choose green products.
2. Boost Efficiency by Redesigning Cartons
The shape and volume of your packaging products plays a large role in how many resources your operation uses and how many shipments it takes to transport a given quantity of product. Overly large packaging, or boxes with convoluted shapes, are difficult to stow and ship efficiently.
There is something to be said for a pleasurable “unboxing experience” when it comes to consumer goods. But shipping cartons must serve a practical function first, which is to protect products while occupying as little volume as possible. Optimizing the number of products you can send out per shipment means you’ll watch the savings add up in fuel, time and other resources. And the earth will thank you for your efficiency, too.
3. Switch to a Different Partner
If you rely on third parties to get your freight where you need it to go, and you’re wondering whether there are greener alternatives out there, where can you begin your search?
One option is to use the U.S. government’s SmartWay program. The 2019 “High Performers List” is available now, and it provides a directory of efficiency and sustainability leaders in the freight industry.
When you oversee a business, you don’t always have the time it takes to oversee the minutiae that goes into shipping. SmartWay helps by ranking participants based on criteria you probably don’t often think about, but which nonetheless impact sustainability in a big way. The ranking criteria include:
- Direct carbon emissions
- Distance traveled and methods used
- How efficiently companies use packaging and raw materials
- How long vehicles are typically left idling
- Inflation levels of vehicle tires
- How well companies collaborate with partners
- Transparency and traceability efforts
The EPA estimates that the SmartWay program eliminated some 70,000 tons of fine particulate matter — a known health risk especially for people with heart or respiratory problems — between 2009 and 2016. Primarily associated with diesel truck engines, fine particulates are known to affect air and water quality and public health.
4. Switch to a Different Filler Material
Just as you reconsidered the material your case packs and shipping cartons are made out of, you can revisit your choice of filler material. Styrofoam is a familiar sight in the shipping industries, but it’s falling out of favor, as it’s a petroleum product and inherently wasteful. Some major retailers like IKEA have already pivoted to one of the heirs apparent to Styrofoam: mycelium.
Mycelium is a type of mushroom that can be grown and disposed of inside of a week. It makes an exceptionally renewable replacement for Styrofoam peanuts and inserts when you need to keep packaging safe in transit. Mushrooms even have implications for self-healing concrete, which makes them a can’t-miss innovation in several industries.
5. Rethink Your Return Process
Companies that ship lots of products must also receive lots of returns. It’s one of the costs of doing business. Unfortunately, each of those returns represents a carbon footprint of their own. Returns cost fuel and emit pollution. And if products aren’t easy to return for replacement or refurbishment, customers may simply surrender them to the landfill prematurely.
There are several worthwhile action items to consider here:
- Take action to reduce errors and cut down on corrective shipments.
- Do not require customers to return defective low-cost merchandise. Ship them a replacement without forcing them to send the broken item on a round-trip.
- Make it easy for customers to return or sell back defective higher-value merchandise. Doing this gives the company another revenue stream from repairing and selling refurbished items and means using fewer raw materials to make new products.
As you can see, your shipping processes could be greener from top to bottom. With these suggestions, your company can be well on its way to greater success and a greener legacy.