Everyone has their part to play in making society and business more sustainable – from the makers and start-ups offering specialist products to an enthusiastic audience, to established businesses changing their practices to better serve people and planet. But it’s not always easy to just come up with the answers on your own.
Ecobahn was created in 2019 to address the issues with sustainability in the e-commerce world. It’s an industry that has made the planet more globally connected than before and changed the way we shop. But there have been downsides, too.
“In the e-commerce world, we very much celebrate the idea that you can order goods from anywhere in the world and have them shipped to your door quickly,” says Ecobahn co-founder Simon Coles. “That is amazing and we’ve built the technology to allow that.
“E-commerce has always been focused on growth – it’s such a boom industry and we’ve celebrated a lot of growth over the last five or ten years. But in the last few years, I suddenly became very aware that, as we were growing, no-one was really talking about whether this growth was sustainable or about the potential impact of e-commerce businesses on the environment,” says Simon.
The Ecobahn is changing the way retailers work, creating a community based around sustainability.
Encouraging the sharing of information and best practice, Ecobahn has quickly become an indispensable tool for e-commerce businesses, giving them the tools to change their practices and help the planet.
Celebrating the good and questioning how the industry can change from within, Ecobahn is a one-stop shop of articles, opinion pieces, success stories and resources. Covering everything from packaging and logistics to technology and re-commerce, if you’re an online business grappling with your environmental impact, it will point you in the right direction.
“Primarily our aim was just to create a platform to share ideas. Sustainability is such a complex and difficult subject – we were never thinking we were going to solve things, but we just felt that, if we could start a conversation around it, then hopefully we could help people come to some answers to how they can start their sustainability journey,” says Simon.
We’ve seen the re-commerce market in particular (where people sell second-hand or vintage goods) grow exponentially, with third party sellers on Amazon being the most visible example. But even traditional brick and mortar stores are getting in on the act, from the vintage offerings of high street brands like Urban Outfitters, to recycling programmes implemented by fashion houses like A.P.C.
Although Ecobahn is curated by and for those in the e-commerce world, it’s not just focused on this market.
“A lot of our conversations branch into retail in general and how that entire industry can become more sustainable. I think there’s no doubt now that in the coming years retail will evolve further into the online space. The breadth of our coverage means retail businesses can make decisions now that will allow them to be more sustainable as they grow into the online space,” he says.
We are definitely in the midst of a once-in-a-generation industry shift – both for good and bad – and the Covid-19 pandemic has seen e-commerce boom. But for businesses to change and become more sustainable, we consumers need to change too.
“As a society, we have become nations of consumers. We buy a lot of things, and retail has become very discount driven. The whole market is underpinned by regular discount events, where retailers effectively make no money, by selling goods at close to what it costs to make them,” he adds.
“If you look at sustainability in terms of both the environment and sustainability of a business, these things collide in the way in which the industry currently works. This is the biggest hurdle to address; as consumers we need to change our view on how we buy things, buying quality items, and buying products to last.
“When you begin to look at the second-hand goods market, re-commerce, upcycling – that whole circular economy idea of trying to make products last longer is going to be a real driver. We’re seeing big companies invest in second hand platforms in terms of re-commerce. That will feed into this idea that it’s not sustainable for us to constantly buy more and more things that have been made cheaply.”
It may still be an uphill battle, but as more big businesses change their thinking and change their practices, then surely a more sustainable future awaits us?
Understanding your impact is key, “Whether you’re a tiny e-commerce business or one of the biggest; just getting a handle on exactly what your impact is and taking positive steps to try and change that is all you really need to be doing,” says Simon.