How Does Your Business Effect the World?

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As the owner of an online e-commerce business, particularly one that uses dropshipping services to fulfill orders, you may not have spent much time thinking about your carbon footprint.  You may run your business from your home, never receive large shipments for further distribution as you sell your products, purchase volumes of packing materials, or receive returned packages.  But as one of tens of millions of businesses that have this business model, including us, we all need to be aware of the impact our business has on the environment and ensure that our policies and practices promote sustainable living and consider our business’ effect on the world around us.

So make a cup of organic, fair trade tea, put your feet up, and consider how you can reduce the carbon footprint of your e-commerce business.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Ideally, every business decision you make should be made considering its impact on the environment.  There will always be compromises but like that little angel on your shoulder, if you know the best practice, you will migrate towards it.

Check list for Green Home Office

Recycling Hardware

We operate our business out of home in a small town in Florida.  Even here there are services that will recycle old computers, printers, and cell phones.  Before you put any hardware in your trash or dumpster, search online for a local recycling business.  Most of these also include removing any sensitive data from hard drives.  Our county, Volusia County, also offers electronic recycling services.

Donating Hardware

If the equipment is still operational but just not for you, take time to determine if it can be donated to a local school or library.  They do not need antiquated electronics.  Many good-meaning people and organizations donate electronics to developing countries, including paying the transport, only to find that 1) the import duty costs far more than purchasing the equipment new in-country 2) the power supplies are not the same and require expensive converters and 3) the equipment is outdated and cannot run current software.  Most of these donations end up in landfills after traveling halfway around the world or even worse, promote an industry where people work in horrific conditions to extract small amounts of valuable minerals from the equipment.  Consider a financial donation instead.

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Another beauty of running an e-commerce business from your home is there is little to consume.  We have 1 ream of paper – the only printing we do is for documents that require signatures.  We also have a box of 20 envelopes, of which we use about 1 a month.  Cardboard boxes are all recycled.

Rather than sticky notes, we use whiteboards for messages and notes.

Mail that we receive is either scanned and shredded, or recycled.  Because we work from our home, the shredded paper is added to our compost pile.  Take the time to contact companies that mail unsolicited mail and have them remove you from their mailing lists.


While we did consider installing solar-power in our home, it was cost prohibitive, even in Florida.  We settled on both electric and natural gas appliances, ensuring they were all rated to consume the lowest amount of energy possible. We run the business using two laptops, one desktop, and one printer in our home office.  All of the computers are shutdown when no in use and set on minimum no-activity automatic shutdown periods.  

After living in Kenya for 3 years, we became very aware of water consumption.  While we no longer take one-bucket showers, using a pair of underwear as a washcloth, we do not run faucets to get the water hot or while brushing our teeth and showers are short.  We continue to wash dishes like we did in Kenya – filling two sides of the sink, one with soapy water and one with clean for rinsing.

While we do have two cars, the average yearly mileage is under 6000 miles.  We use rechargeable bikes for much our transportation.

We built boxes for a large garden and have a compost box.  I only wish we were better gardeners but we continue to try.

Choosing Services Suppliers

When you first decide you want to create an e-commerce website, you have many decisions to make.  The ideal environment is selling a product that you make from recycled materials that requires no resources to make and can be delivered by bicycle to your neighbors who pay in cash.  But once you find  that everyone in your neighborhood is happy with the number of beer can flower pots they purchased, you may need to consider the services and products that others offer.

Environment and Sustainability Policies

Many companies have corporate policies that explain how they address their carbon footprint.  Larger companies like USPS will have a published policy readily available to interested parties, like those considering using their services.  If the company doesn’t have a published policy, contact them and ask.  I found that companies who did not have a public-facing policy were more than willing to compile information of corporate policies that pertained to sustainability.


The largest effect on a company’s carbon footprint is what actually consumes fossil-based fuels – the transport of goods.  And this is not only the transportation of products to the consumer, but also the import costs.  If you’re e-commerce site dropships electronics, the products have been made overseas and transported by sea to distribution warehouses. 

Larger companies may have multiple distribution centers that enable them to ship to the end-consumer from the location that is most cost-effective.  Smaller companies do not have this luxury without distributing their goods to fulfillment warehouses (or using one like Amazon.)  The storage costs are higher than the shipping costs, so few suppliers will go this route.

As one who sells others’ products through a dropshipping relationship, you may want to consider if your product choice has a geographical aspect that may make you consider one supplier over another.  You probably don’t want to source wool ski hats from Florida, not only for the effect of the transportation on the carbon footprint, but also for the transportation cost, which in general is  based on distance.  If you are sourcing something that will sell well locally, look for a local supplier.

Additionally, consider the number of dropshipping relationships you include on a single site.  If a customer orders more than one item that are not  sourced from the same dropshipper, a single order will result in multiple shipments from different locations.  If you are using a single dropshipper, multiple items can be shipped in a single order.

Software Companies

While you may take into consideration your carbon footprint when you make business decisions, other businesses that you work with may not.  Asking them may result in them looking at and changing policies that effect the environment if their clients find it important.


The main company we work with is Shopify, a Canadian-based company that provides a flexible platform and hosting for e-commerce sites, including businesses that want products dropshipped.  While they currently do not have a public-facing sustainability document, their Sustainability officer provided the following information.

2018 Shopify Sustainability Initiatives

  • Migrated cloud services for merchants to Google Cloud Platform, which is powered by 100% renewable energy. This one was a big one for them, as one of the largest impact Shopify has on the environment would be the energy used for the processors so moving to a sustainable alternative was a step in the right direction. 100% Renewable.
  • 2 LEED Gold buildings
  • Meatless Monthly for the Planet initiated in our Ottawa headquarters (large majority of employees requested it)
  • Eliminated single-use water bottles in Ottawa
  • Montreal Sustainability team campaign to reduce all single use plastics in month of November
  • Plant-based soaps and cleaners for food service at Headquarters
  • Daily inter-city shuttle service between Waterloo and Toronto offices
  • Motion sensor lighting/Hand dryers in bathrooms
  • Often use locally sourced materials for fitups and furniture
  • Support social enterprises through in-kind donations of space, e.g., Women in Renewable Energy


The vast majority of e-commerce products are mass produced in Chinese factories.  Watch Shark Tank and you’ll hear Kevin O’Leary tout the cost savings of having a product made in China vs. the US.  Chinese producers have a large carbon footprint from the actual manufacturing processes that are not environmentally sound, but also rely on workers in poor working conditions and long import distances. It’s the worst of all worlds.

While we do not designate the products you carry on your website, we work with many sites that carry fair trade products.  While still subject to the carbon footprint caused by importing, the suppliers are artisans and farmers who are in relationships with US and Canadian companies that ensure they are treated with dignity and respect and earning a fair sustainable income.  For fair trade handicrafts, we recommend as a fair trade supplier.

If you are working with US-based manufacturers, check out their websites and see if they have anything regarding sustainability.  If not, consider contacting them about their environmental practices. 


For shippers, packaging is the biggest conundrum.  Do we pack the product so there is absolutely no chance of it breaking (i.e. shaped Styrofoam, mounds of bubble wrap, air pillows, or the dreaded Styrofoam peanuts) or do we risk the replacement costs and ship them in used boxes, recycled fabric, and newsprint. 

In addition to the resources required to pack a shipment to absolutely protect the product, the extra packaging adds not only to the weight of the shipment, but often to the dimensional weight, which adds to the cost and the carbon footprint.  Minimal packaging, while potentially causing risk of occasional replacement, is a lower carbon footprint solution.  It also reduces the waste the recipient needs to recycle or discard.  Packaging should be marked with recycle instructions.

In our time as a fair trade distribution business, we were constantly trying to find the perfect packing that considered the carbon footprint for each product.  In most cases, the solution that does the least harm to the environment was the most costly.  So from a business point of view, the best economic decision was the worst environmental decision.  But we found that customers appreciated the fact that we were using green air pillows and water-activated paper tape so we allocated the cost to marketing.

If you are selling your products through a dropship relationship, you never see the product and probably do not know how it arrives to a customer.  You may want to place an order for yourself to experience what your customer experiences.  If it is a product that is sold by many sellers, you may want to check the reviews, which often describe the packaging.  If a manufacturer or a producer invests in eco-packaging, however, they will often mention that fact either on their website or in an environmental policy.

You also will want to check the return policy.  Our policy was if the product was damaged and couldn’t be easily repaired, do not return it, reducing the carbon footprint.  This is not common practice but we trusted our customers.


Moving products from point A to point B to point C has the most impact on the environment.  Most companies that warehouse goods use shipping software to determine the most cost-effective way of shipping a package, using multiple shipping services, like the US Postal Service, UPS, and FedEx, which compete for the business.  These large shipping services have environmental policies.

The USPS offers USPS Blue Earth that is a series of Sustainability Services including carbon accounting, which enables its business customers to measure and manage the impact their shipping business has on the environment.

Similarly, UPS and FedEx both produce Sustainability reports that describe their initiatives and goals they have to reduce their carbon footprint.

These companies develop and practice sustainable policies not only to meet legal regulations but to answer to consumers.

Final Thoughts

An e-commerce business may seem to have minimal impact on the environment, but it is really what goes on after an order is placed that has a huge impact through the companies with whom you’ve chosen to work.  While you choose companies based on the services and products they provide, research how they address their carbon footprint.  You will be surprised at the number of corporate decisions made daily by importers/distributors, shipping companies, software developers, and other companies that support your business, that can be changed to be less taxing on our world.  And look at your own lifestyle and business choices – positive impact may be as simple as thinking twice before you print a piece of paper.

At we help people launch their eCommerce dream on the web. If you have a dream and need some help, we are here to help turn your dream into reality.

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