The fashion and retail industries have been put through somewhat of an awakening in the last few weeks. It began with the release of the latest IPCC report which declared the climate emergency a ‘code red situation for humanity’. This was followed by an appearance from Greta Thunberg in Vogue Scandinavia calling out the fashion industry directly for its ‘huge’ contributions to global emissions, as well as for greenwashing via their so-called sustainable initiatives.  

Greenwashing is an accusation often thrown out at fashion and retail giants. Sadly, it is not unfounded. Far too many companies use the guise of the SDG agenda to mask the fact that they fail to meet their sustainability promises and empower their customers to make more sustainable choices. Now, we have the data to prove it.

Failing to keep sustainability promises

A new report, conducted by parcelLab, analysed the sustainability practises of the UK’s top 50 DTC brands – the delivery processes of brands such as Veja, Peloton and Huel were all put under the microscope. It found a systematic failure across DTC retailers to deliver on environmental promises and provide customers with sustainable alternatives as an option in the fulfilment process. 

Let us walk you through a few product lifecycle processes and the impact they leave on the planet.

Service delivery footprint 

Take the delivery processes for instance. Evidence shows that just 4% of DTC brands studied to offer the choice of carbon-neutral delivery as an option at the checkout. Yet, this is a potentially simple step many brands could take considering the development of electric vehicles or carbon offsetting schemes available.  

Sustainable packaging  

An image showing sustainable packaging examples as a way of meeting sustainability promises.

Things do not improve when it comes to products packaging. As it stands, almost 1 in 5 (18%) DTC brands still rely on plastics to package their products, 30% include plastic packaging within the parcel itself and only 6% offer the choice of less packaging for delivery. 

The study also shows that some 55% of DTC retailers fail to offer customers the option of paperless returns. Plastics and other non-recyclable packaging have become the original sin of our climate crisis – but with more of us ordering online than ever, it is important that customers be empowered to choose an environmentally conscious alternative.  

Sustainable messaging

Our research also highlights that many brands continue with practices that are both inefficient and unsustainable. Take as an example the branded inserts which were included in parcels of over half (52%) of the retailers studied. Regularly used as a marketing tactic, these materials are often thrown away, which makes them an unsustainable option for brands. 

A group of young activists and customers advocating for a greener planet.

Furthermore, the information from these inserts could be included in delivery communications, where open rates can reach 80% according to the research. Therefore, there is a real opportunity for environmental messaging to occur in a more impactful manner.   

It seems that the current number of retailers including sustainability messaging in their delivery communication stands at 0%. As a result, the DTC retailers are missing out on a key opportunity to engage with their customers and encourage green behaviours. Removing branded inserts and moving this messaging to email is not only a sustainable step for brands but a simple and effective one. 

Paperless returns 

A further step towards a more sustainable future could be in paperless returns. The brands studied to promote a forward-thinking and innovative public image, one where both process and product is emersed in technology. Yet around 45% of them still fail to offer at least the option of paperless returns. 

Give your customers sustainable choices  

Although it is alarming that companies are failing to live up to the sustainability promises they often announce, there is a deeper issue regarding customer choice we need to address. A recent analysis conducted by IBM found that 6 in 10 customers are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce the negative impact on the environment. Yet, the DTC brands studied consistently fail to adapt their processes to offer customers that choice.  

It also happens that the fulfilment companies, which many retailers work with, offer a carbon-neutral delivery alternative, but many of the brands themselves do not give the choice of carbon offsetting in the transportation or packaging process. Whether it’s auditing package sizing to reduce waste, offering carbon offsetting, or giving customers the option to purchase unbranded packaging with only relevant recycling information, these initiatives can have a huge impact on the environment and the entire customer journey.   

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