Six Tips for Sustainable Packaging & Shipping

According to the Global Sustainability Study of 2021, 60% of consumers worldwide think of sustainability as an important consideration in their purchasing decisions. Of those consumers, 85% are from younger generations. Considering that a large bulk of consumers are more likely to purchase products that are manufactured, packaged, and shipped sustainably, businesses are compelled to change how they do things.

Product packaging is responsible for 40% of all plastic produced in the world, and only less than a fifth of all plastic waste is recycled. Meanwhile, the shipping industry, which is responsible for 90% of all trade globally, is projected to contribute as much as 10% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Shipping is also a major contributor to Black Carbon emissions, which makes up 21% of CO2-equivalent emissions from ocean vessels.

Needless to say, product packaging and shipping should be among the priority of businesses’ sustainability efforts. If you’re a business leader in the middle of developing a corporate sustainability strategy, these pointers for sustainable packaging and shipping are a must-know.

Packaging Tip 1 – Mono packaging

Shipping boxes are often filled with buffer material to protect their contents when being shipped. Not only is this filling often made with plastic, it also makes the packaging more susceptible to cross-contamination during recycling. 

By using mono packaging, recycling becomes easier. Mono packaging is the use of filling material that is the same as the box’s material (e.g cardboard box and cardboard filling). Mono packaging is easier for recycling machines to process for new packaging materials.

Shipping Tip 1 – Carbon-neutral shipping

Unless you’re sending couriers to deliver products on foot, there’s no way you can guarantee customers that the process of product shipment is carbon-neutral from start to finish. However, you can make sure that emissions during shipping is offset, producing a net zero amount of carbon dioxide. Offsetting is typically done through the following:

  • Using less packaging overall – you can’t ship products without packing it properly, but you can make sure it’s packaged efficiently. If you can pack a product with the least amount of material possible without sacrificing protection, all the better.
  • Using recycled and recyclable materials – avoiding the use of single-use plastics, looking for styrofoam alternatives, and using mono packaging will greatly help in reducing CO2 emissions.
  • Distributing your products to many fulfillment centers – the longer your product travels to reach the customer, the larger the carbon footprint the shipping will have. If you make sure all your fulfillment centers have a certain amount of every item in your inventory, you’ll be able to ship products on the shortest, fastest route possible.

When you’re capable of offsetting your carbon footprint, it’s advisable to offer customers a carbon-neutral shipping option. They can pay a bit more for shipping to get a guarantee that their purchase was shipped with net-zero emissions. This way, the customer gets what they want and you’ll have more funds for your offsetting practices.

Packaging Tip 2 – Compact packaging

As mentioned, striking the right balance between packaging and protection is vital in minimizing your carbon footprint. This means keeping the packaging as compact as possible or perfectly sized for a product is the best approach. There are automated right-sizing machines that allow companies to make custom-sized shipping boxes that make every package space-efficient and require less packaging material.

Read: Compactness and sustainability at Anuga FoodTec

Shipping Tip 2 – Green shipping

In carbon-neutral shipping, the customers pay an additional fee to guarantee net-zero emissions in their purchase. In green shipping, a customer states a product doesn’t need to be delivered immediately and can be shipped in the most sustainable way possible.  

When customers opt for green shipping, their order isn’t prioritized. Instead, shipping spends more time determining the most sustainable way of delivering the package. Having a green shipping option allows your customers to reduce the carbon footprint of orders that don’t need to be shipped immediately.

Combo Tip 1 – Multiple products at a time

By encouraging customers to order multiple products at the same time, you can reduce your carbon footprint significantly. When you ship multiple products to a customer at once, you use significantly less packaging and you only have to ship them once. Offering discounts or free shipping for large orders is a good way of incentivizing this. You can also inform your customers that they can contribute to reducing CO2 emissions by ordering more products at the same time. 

Combo Tip 2 – Fewer returns and exchanges

Another way to minimize the carbon footprint of both your packaging and shipping is by making sure products won’t be returned or exchanged by customers. More often than not, customers want to return or exchange a product they purchased either due to damage, incorrect variant, or simply finding it inadequate for them. 

When a product is returned or exchanged, the packaging used is wasted and the product needs to go through shipping routes all over again, resulting in an unnecessarily bigger carbon footprint. This is why you should make sure you deliver the correct product and protect it from potential damage. Having a detailed and easy-to-understand product description on your online store will also help ensure that customers won’t ask for an exchange.


The significant impact of packaging and shipping on the environment needs to be met with equally significant sustainability efforts from businesses. More sustainable packaging options are expected to be developed in the years to come, and the rise of electric ships in the future is all but guaranteed to further decrease the carbon footprint of packaging and shipping. But for now, companies will need to make the most of available options if they want to be seen as sustainable businesses. 

Written by Dominy Jones