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4 opportunities for a more sustainable e-commerce

4 opportunities for a more sustainable e-commerce

Discover in this article the main proposals of the report for all e-commerce actors in France to make e-commerce more sustainable.

State of play and impacts of e-commerce in France

Following the several global lockdowns and closure of a large number of stores due to Covid-19 crisis, online sales have gone full speed ahead in 2020. Between 2019 and 2020, the sector grew from 46 to 63 billion euros generated (an increase of 37%) and now reaches about 13% of retail trade. This strong growth has allowed many merchants to survive a particularly chaotic year.  

While confirming the economic weight of e-commerce, the report "For a sustainable development of online trade" submitted to the government has pointed out several trends impacting the environment:

  • The sectors in which e-commerce has the largest market share (clothing, toys and electronic products) mostly import their products from outside the European Union by air freight and therefore have a high carbon footprint

  • Consumers are increasingly opting for fast delivery (less than 24 hours) and home delivery (85%) as opposed to more environmentally friendly delivery methods such as click & collect (28%). 

  • Storage spaces are moving further and further away from delivery points, which increases greenhouse gas emissions: their average distance from the heart of Paris has increased from 6.3 km in 1974 to 18.1 km in 2010.

  • Consumers are buying online more frequently than before (from 1.2 times per month in 2011 to an average of 3.5 times per month in 2019), which increases freight traffic and therefore, once again, greenhouse gas emissions

The report also highlights several harmful effects on employment and competition

  • Although e-commerce allows the creation of jobs in the transport and logistics sectors, the report observes the destruction of jobs in the toy, shoe and clothing sectors. Indeed, the stronger the e-commerce in a sector, the more the decrease in employment is marked.

  • Certain business practices such as free shipping and easy returns by some companies are leading to lower margins for competitors, which could soon result in accelerated automation of warehouses and physical stores, with significant effects on employment. 

To respond to these challenges, the report lists recommendations along 4 lines of thought: 

Measuring the environmental impact of e-commerce

Already densely populated, urban areas are overrun by delivery vehicles stopping very frequently. E-commerce represents 20% of the flows in cities and is growing by 15% per year. This is why it is recommended that only "clean" and approved delivery vehicles be allowed access to these areas and that delivery to a relay point be preferred to home delivery in order to centralize journeys. 

The distance between the storage warehouse and the delivery point is also a factor to be taken into account and optimized, especially in the Ile-de-France area where the penetration rate of e-commerce is higher than elsewhere in France. Indeed, it is 54% in Paris against 33% in rural communities and communities of less than 20 000 inhabitants. 

This is why Cubyn chose to locate its goods storage warehouse in Gennevilliers, near Paris, which drastically reduces the time it takes to deliver orders in the Paris region and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.  

The report also recommends greater transparency from e-merchants on the carbon impact of the different delivery options for the consumer. Thus, the latter could choose his mode of delivery, while knowing its impact on the environment. The authors of the report are betting that by becoming aware of the impact of fast delivery methods, a change in consumer mentality is possible. With this in mind, Cubyn recently introduced a new and more environmentally friendly delivery method, Cubyn Basic.

The choice of packaging and materials is also crucial in the preparation of orders: Cubyn is committed to using environmentally friendly materials: recyclable cardboard, recycled kraft, minimal use of plastic... 

Finally, the creation of a "sustainable e-commerce" label is also proposed by the report for a better traceability of the various ecological initiatives. 

Ensuring better cohesion between territories

For the time being, logistics issues are not fully taken into account in regional planning discussions and it is common to witness public outcry as soon as a warehouse creation project is mentioned. However, more voluntary cooperation between territories and e-commerce players would make it possible to optimize flows, to encourage multimodality, densification and the use of wastelands to reduce the artificial use of space.

Reforming the taxation of e-commerce players 

Several digital giants regularly make the headlines by largely escaping taxation. The report recommends the adoption of an appropriate tax system and the introduction of carbon offsetting at the EU's borders, to better reflect their environmental impact in the prices they charge.  At the national level, a major reform of the taxation of commerce could be considered in the near future to equalize the balance of power between physical and online commerce, particularly on the subject of the application of VAT.

Pushing forward the digital transition of French commerce

At the moment, French retailers engaged in a digital approach are a minority, as noted by CCI France: 25% of them have a website compared to 72% in Germany. The report encourages the digitization and training in e-commerce practices of all French economic actors (merchants, manufacturers, craftsmen, farmers ...). According to the report, shifting into higher gear in terms of digital transition could ultimately revitalize city centers, increase the digital coverage of territories and thus promote a more sustainable e-commerce.  

Finally, the sustainability of the e-commerce sector can not be considered without cooperation. According to Adrien Fernandez Baca, CEO and founder of Cubyn:

In order to improve the depth of the catalog offered and to compete with major global players, it is necessary to facilitate the interoperability of national platforms to promote the emergence of a European leader in sustainable e-commerce.

One thing is for sure, this type of consultation is bound to be renewed in view of the strong growth of the e-commerce sector and its impact on the environment as well as on the national economy. The authors of the report also consider "essential" "quick decisions to preserve the diversity of trade modes". 

💡 To go further: discover our guide on green logistics and our best practices to make it a growth lever for your e-commerce.

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