In the next part of our series on how to make your brand more sustainable we look at where to get started, how to focus your efforts and some of the best first steps to take in transforming your Amazon FBA brand - so that you know....
How to get your first wins
Reading time: 5 minutes
Amazon FBA - Where can you have an impact?
As an Amazon FBA business, you are tied to one of the world’s largest retail companies and from the moment that Amazon receives your inventory, your ability to influence the sustainability process is limited. However, this also means that you can have a major impact in all of the areas that come before this:
- Supply chain – from the factory to pre-Amazon Check In
- Labour – yours and the companies you work with
- Product design & Packaging – minimising the volume while still keeping the value
(We will go into detail on how Amazon’s current business model affects the planet and its environmental, social and governance (ESG) ambitions in a future article in this series).
A few tips on strategy
Now that we’ve discussed where you can have an impact, we wanted to add a few tips on strategy, so that you make sure that all of your ambitions for making a more planet friendly Amazon FBA brand – become goals ticked off the To-do list (and not wishes scrawled on a scrunched up post-it note in your trash can).
- Use measurable Key Performance Indicators – so that you can define the progress towards a goal in a single figure or limited set of figures (and visualise this by creating a To Do list towards a goal or recording the data of your impact over time e.g. checking how much plastic was in your packaging once a quarter) – it also means that it is easier to communicate any results to your customers, as well!
- Pick a business area where you have good visibility over what is happening – for example: choosing the amount of packaging for the box of one of your products vs. monitoring how many of your products are recycled.
- Identify whether simple changes can have a big effect – e.g. if you sell 50 units of a product per day, removing one unnecessary plastic bag from your product packaging means that you can reduce your plastic waste by 18 250 plastic bags in a year!
- Can you act on this issue quickly? At eBrands, we prioritise action and showing value over talking about value, so we look to areas where we can have an immediate effect first, before moving onto the bigger issues.
- And, remember - communicate your progress! Sustainability is an important and growing trait in consumer product selection - and while it is also important to remember that making businesses more sustainable is the right thing to do ethically, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t use it as a positive for your business, too, e.g.:
- If you have achieved an independent sustainability certification, then post about it.
- If you’ve cut down on the amount of plastic in your packaging, then write this on the new packaging.
(NB: You can also use communication on your packaging to help increase your business’s sustainability, e.g. recycling instructions for your product and/or packaging can help to reduce the amount of effort that your customer has to put into finding out how to recycle your goods and it can also act as a reminder that these goods can be recycled when their product life comes to an end).
Next - let’s look at some actual things you can do to make your brand better for the planet.
How to start: Small Steps and Quick Wins
Aiming to make your brand more sustainable or ESG friendly is an ambitious goal and it can often lead to grand plans that quickly become unmanageable and make little progress.
So go after the low-hanging fruit first. You can do this by identifying any small, achievable steps that you can take to realise quick wins. This strategy will more effectively build the initial momentum that you need to reach your bigger goals. Then, by repeating these actions consistently, and building further incremental wins from them, you can find a path towards realising bigger goals over time - that will demonstrate value to you, your team – and to your customers.
Let’s look at a few examples…
1. Choose Sustainable and/or Recyclable Packaging (and minimise the amount, too) - Whenever and wherever possible, use packaging for your goods that is made from and/or sourced from sustainable materials (you can do this by checking the websites and certifications of the suppliers, as well as any company priorities they publicly display). Alternatively, if you can’t check how sustainable the products are – aim to use materials that are degradable. This doesn’t have to mean using bioplastics or other innovative materials, either, e.g.:
- If you have packing peanuts in your cartons – can you replace these with kraft paper?
- If you’re using plastic to keep your product stable in its box – could you use cardboard inserts, instead?
Managing your full sustainability profile is a complex task and while actions like these aren’t bulletproof, comprehensive ESG strategies, they’re still likely to yield more positive results than not taking action.
For example, packing peanuts can be recycled, but they require your customers to locate and go to specialist recycling facilities, whereas many countries have some form of large scale paper and cardboard recycling system. As a result, these materials are much less likely to end up in the landfill, and even if all of the above packaging types ended up in a landfill, paper and cardboard take a fraction of the time that packing peanuts and other plastics take to degrade (some plastics can take around half a millennia to break down).
Additionally, when you look at your packaging, ask yourself:
- Does this section add value to the customer (e.g. unboxing experience)?
- Is it necessary to protect the product/comply with regulation?
If not, then stop using it. During a check on one of our newly acquired brands we found that the factory included two unnecessary plastic bags in the box for some products. After a short call to the factory, these bags were removed and as these products sell 21 000 units per year, that means a short telephone call and an email removed 42 000 plastic bags from our supply chain annually!
2. Keep your Return Rate Low – The more returns you have, the more fuel that is needed to transport your inventory and the more packaging that is needed to sell your inventory (and that’s before we even get onto the risk of lost inventory if the item is damaged).
To keep your return rate low:
- Use high quality photos
- Make sure your product descriptions are clear, detailed and accurate
- Go through your negative customer reviews and address any pain points (if you can’t update/upgrade the item immediately) so that people know if there are any significant issues with the product. You can frame communication like this in a positive way, too – e.g. Negative Review = Not enough settings/options for the product. Product description = “Our product is simple to use and comes with a refined set of only a few key settings to make sure that you get the most out of every option.”
3. Ship via Sea and Ship Full Boxes – Forecast your inventory needs 12 months out and give yourself plenty of time to ship inventory at a slower pace by ocean freight. Additionally, don’t send out shipments with half empty boxes, or if your orders are large enough, half empty pallets or containers.
Shipping via air is quicker and more likely to be on time than ocean freight (especially given the significant port congestion ecommerce shippers have seen during 2021) but you pay for this in costs, both financially and environmentally. If you have the option, you can also skip this part altogether and just produce your Amazon FBA products within their marketplace – although this point gets a little trickier if you sell a product in more than one marketplace (e.g. NARF and Pan-EU).
4. Carry Out Some House Cleaning – While your supply chain likely accounts for the lion’s share of your environmental footprint and may also have some of the highest risk areas for other sustainability challenges, too (e.g. labour rights issues), that doesn’t mean you can’t improve your business’s headquarters/home office, too.
For example: i) switch any paper billing over to digital solutions, ii) add solar panels to your office, iii) make sure that any waste from your office is recycled, iv) use video calls instead of travelling for business meetings and v) if you have employees, improve your wellness practices, benefits and job flexibility, etc… All of these changes can quickly add up to make significant differences.
5. Amazon and Other Vendor Programmes – Join any sustainability programmes or certificates that Amazon or other vendors offer (e.g. delivery companies for your shipments).
For example, (this one might take a little more effort, but) Amazon’s Climate Pledge Friendly programme means that if you are certified with one of their sustainability certification partners (or Amazon’s own Compact by Design certificate) Amazon will help to make your product easier to find for consumers who are looking for sustainable goods.
Outside of Amazon, other vendor programmes include schemes such as UPS’s Carbon Neutral or DHL’s Go Green.
There’s plenty of other options,too: This list comprises only a few of the many things that you can do to make your business more sustainable – and in future article we will be taking deep dives on what these things are, and how you can find ways to incorporate them into your Amazon FBA brand(s).
In the next article, we will look at some of the key metrics for monitoring your progress in building a better business for the planet.