Companies should care about their environmental impact, first and foremost, because it’s the right thing to do. Humans have already done irreversible damage on the climate with the increase in anthropogenic Greenhouse gas emissions. We need to make some serious changes if we want our children to have an Earth to call home. Many corporate environmental impacts are ‘invisible’ to the consumer, such as water expenditure, carbon emissions, and energy usage. One impact front and center, outside of the product itself, is the packaging it comes in and how it was shipped. This is one way for consumers to gage company values and the easiest way for companies to show that they are committed to the environment.
Instead of heading out to the mall this year with the masses, I flipped open my laptop and hopped on the glorious World Wide Web in search of deals and gifts to wow everyone on my Christmas shopping list. Seven to ten business days later I had a (not so neat) pile of packages at my front door ready to be wrapped and stuck under the tree. Online shopping is so easy. It takes most of the heavy lifting out of making a purchase and between COVID and Amazon’s 2-day shipping, who wants to face crowds nowadays. Consumer purchasing is heading the way of the internet, becoming the most common way for consumers to make purchases. This means shipping is only going to become more frequent. This also means that shipping waste is going to become more prevalent throughout the globe, building up in landfills and eventually reaching our oceans, waterways, and untouched landscapes. It is imperative that companies recognize this trend and adopt their shipping policies to combat the likely increase in pollution.
Recently, I opened up an Amazon package it measured approximately 12 in by 12 in by 7 in and had about a gazillion air bags in it. Inside this large box was, and I kid you not, 2 packages of dental floss. This screams to me “Amazon does not care about the environment!” Sure, I could reuse the air bags, but they’re still plastic. They will still end up in a landfill somewhere or become microplastic drifting throughout the ocean. Companies need to be using environmentally friendly packaging when shipping both to consumers and to retail locations. Options like recyclable or compostable packaging are a great place to start. Ideally there would be a circular process where all packaging materials can be reused by the consumer or the sender and then composted at the end of life.
From a marketing perspective, consumers care about companies that support the environment. Environmentally friendly packaging is the most straightforward manner for a company to broadcast that they are supporting the environment. Before making any largescale changes to product production, this allows companies to capture value from their environmentally minded consumers and gain credibility as a brand. Shipping products is the way of the future, we must find a way to sustainably move into this future.
Essay by: Kira Archipov
The Bren School of Environmental Science and Management