Eco-Friendly Ecommerce Fulfillment Strategies and Sustainable 3PL Services

Consumers now demand eco-friendly products, but your supply chain sustainability practices shouldn’t stop with just the products themselves. In the past, logistics, fulfillment, and shipping have been big contributors to environmental waste, but there are increasingly more eco-friendly order fulfillment practices and sustainable shipping options.  

It’s important for brands to consider changing their strategies to more eco-friendly ecommerce fulfillment. Ask your fulfillment provider what eco-friendly 3PL services they offer. Choosing a fulfillment partner with a strong commitment to the environment may be a competitive advantage for your brand.  

Here are the top ways to make your brand more eco-friendly:  

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Eco-Friendly Packaging 

One of the simplest ways to be kinder to the environment is to use recyclable packaging. Here are a few ways to rethink your packing materials and packaging strategy to reduce waste and create sustainable systems.  

Consolidate and Use Less

There can be a lot of waste in the shipping industry. For example, when fragile or high-value goods are shipped, it’s important to pack boxes tightly with specific materials so the products aren’t damaged on the way to their final destination.  

If your products don’t need a lot of security within the carton, let your 3PL know to reduce the dunnage they use per box. Designate the specific amount of paper packaging they use in your work instructions. If you do have fragile, or high-value goods, consult your 3PL on consolidating items into a smaller carton. Do a trial run of a few products to ensure your product remains undamaged and intact. 

Cut Out Overpack  

If you want to go one more step to reduce your packaging materials, eliminate overpacking (which is when you put a box within a box).  

One thing many brands are starting to use is shippable packaging. This is when a branded box is used singularly. Products fit snuggly into one single box which then gets labeled and shipped. There is no outer box or carton, which reduces the need for filler as well.  

In the fulfillment business this single shippable package is called “lick and stick” because there is relatively little assembly that needs to happen on the line. Customers benefit because it reduces waste, reduces fulfillment and labor fees, reduces materials costs, and reduces shipping costs (because of smaller dimensions). 

Choose Green Packing Materials  

There are so many materials to choose from when packing your products. Picking eco-friendly materials isn’t as hard as it used to be. While it may be slightly more expensive, the cost is worth it. In all verticals consumers are now driving sustainability forward by buying from brands making earth-conscious choices. Use your choices to go green as marketing to attract new customers.  

Here are a few ways you can re-think the packing materials you use:  

  1. Cut out plastics. Air-bubbles and bubble wrap are important, but there are greener solutions.  
  1. Never use Styrofoam. There are now many compostable options that take the place of the old-school packing peanuts.  
  1. Use paper whenever you can. As dunnage, as branded inserts, or as mailer bags (instead of plastic-lined polybags), because it’s more easily recycled.  
  1. Go the recycled route. Recycled cardboard has come a long way, consider using it for your boxes and cartons, even your inner box.  

Consider Kitting Differently  

The way your products are packaged directly affects your overall budget. Shipping costs got up with the more elements you add to your boxes, plus if you have an inner box, plus dunnage, those materials all cost extra as well.   

Re-kitting products to fit more efficiently on your boxes will help the environment and your bottom line. Work with your 3PL to come up with a strategy. Try to eliminate any excess space in the boxes.  

This is especially do-able for lighter goods, non-fragile objects, and small items. Aim to limit any overpacking unless it’s absolutely necessary.  

What is Carbon-Neutral Shipping? 

Gas-powered vehicles that are used to drive, fly, and ship products around the globe, release greenhouse gasses which are a major contributor to global warming and climate change.  

While transportation is not the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, it is number one in the US. As online shopping and global trade increase (which they are and will continue to do) transportation will contribute more and more to climate change.  

There are many innovations being tested that aim to reduce or counterbalance the carbon-dioxide emissions, this is known as carbon-neutral shipping.  

It’s important to note that carbon-neutral can mean one of two things: eliminating carbon emissions all-together, or enacting activities that compensate for the emissions produced by shipping.  

Zero-Carbon Options  

  1. Alternative fuels. Biofuels, ethanol, and electrofuel are a few of the alternative methods being tested. Ethanol (already in use) is not always zero-carbon. Biofuels, which are made from plants aren’t on the market yet. Electrofuel is very expensive and also not on the market yet. 
  2. Electric vehicles. While this is the most commonly known eco-friendly transportation, electric vehicles aren’t always a zero-emission option. For passenger vehicles, they are great, but only if the electricity used to power them is zero-emission. Electricity production is the number one leading greenhouse gas emissions contributor. Secondarily, for long-haul shipping large trucks electric vehicles are not yet efficient enough to produce and use commercially. This is because batteries aren’t yet big enough or light enough to be used for heavy loads and long drive time.  

Carbon-Offset Options

  1. Make a positive contribution. Many brands realize they need to enact changes to their shipping practices before these zero-carbon options are viable. A simple option is to contribute funds to carbon elimination activities. Some brands might offer a percentage of their overall revenue, while others might contribute a portion of each sale. The difficult part is determining how much to contribute to causes that are fighting climate change. How do you accurately offset the exact carbon emissions incurred from your product and shipping?  
  2. Add it at checkout for customers. Some companies are getting their customers involved in the cause. Adding a line-item at checkout called “carbon-offset” will put the onus on your customers to pay the extra few dollars, rather than absorbing it all yourself.  

How Your Fulfillment Provider Can Help: Eco-friendly 3PL Services

 Does your 3PL provide services that help your brand become more eco-friendly? 

Eco-friendly product fulfillment isn’t just about using recycled boxes. There are many aspects of fulfillment and logistics that can be better optimized to help fight global warming. Some might seem relatively small, but when added up over thousands of orders a day, they can make a big impact.  

Here are just a few eco-friendly ecommerce fulfillment steps you can ask your 3PL about:  

  1. Go paperless. Does your 3PL have a good technology suite? Great. There’s a chance they may have an option to eliminate paper in some places within the fulfillment flow. For example, work instructions can be digitized and pulled up on a screen for a worker to read through. Packing lists are often not necessary to have printed out. See if your 3PL has an option to eliminate this on orders that don’t need it.  
  1. Know your shipping options. Your 3PL will have relationships with all of the major carriers. It’s likely that the big shipping companies will be the ones with the budgets to implement new, green systems. Ask your 3PL regularly what eco-friendly options they know of on the market.  
  1. Green power. Does your 3PL use solar energy or another natural resource to power their facilities? It requires a lot of power to keep a warehouse in operation all day. Ask what green initiatives they have in place, and what they might be planning for the future.  



If you are looking for ways to make your ecommerce fulfillment more eco-friendly, reach out to us for a quote. Or read about the many ways DCL Logistics has implemented sustainable logistics practices for decades.