How to master eco-friendly sourcing and production?

How to master eco-friendly sourcing and production?

Julie Ribeiro

Julie Ribeiro

July 2, 2020

1. Adopting responsible behaviour on a daily basis with green sourcing

From the choice of raw materials to the manufacturing process via the country of manufacture, everything can have an influence on your environmental impact.

As part of your eco-logistics approach, going through local production and using materials that are geographically close is a mandatory step. But is it really worthwhile to produce locally?

To answer this question, Bigblue interviewed three e-commerce brands with different logistics approaches:

  • Cabaïa: An eco-friendly e-commerce brand specializing in textile accessories (hats, socks, backpacks, pouches...). Their objective is to improve processes and to use recyclable materials to reduce their ecological footprint.
  • Né à: A company selling dermo-cosmetics for newborns, Né à provides eco-responsible products that can be used in clinics and purchased online. Their primary concern: the transparency of its dermo-cosmetics. Né à only produces in France  and makes it an obligation to respect ecological certifications and to use 100% eco-responsible packaging.
  • Loom: An e-commerce brand for men's clothing, Loom's goal is to make clothing as durable as possible, at affordable prices. The manufacturing process is designed to ensure the longevity of the textile, while respecting the environment.

The production processes of these three brands are all geared towards environmental protection and eco-responsibility.Affirming the environmental and ethical commitment of your e-commerce may involve making certain choices and adapting your production logistics to the circumstances.

From production made in Europe to the transport of goods via multimodality, reducing your impact on the environment is possible!

2. Reducing environmental impacts: production made in Europe

Manufacturing in Europe can be much less polluting than producing your goods abroad. That said, producing in Europe and even worldwide is not always an option, even if you can make the most of the situation to be more environmentally responsible.

The ecolabel and the sustainable approach of your e-commerce

Obtaining sustainable European labels for your e-commerce brand is a good way to assert your ethical orientation. Oeko-Tex, Bluedesign, PVC Free... There is a whole range of labels that allow your consumers to find out more about your manufacturing priorities.

Whether it is for the traceability of ingredients, the origin of raw materials or working conditions, having a European eco-label allows you to lock in certain guarantees and ensure the transparency of your brand. 

For example, the entire production chain from Né à is Ecocert certified from the supplier to the client. Thus, consumers who buy a Né à product know that they are choosing organic, traditional fair-trade products.

Similarly, Cabaïa manufactures flip-flops inAsia, due to the lack of factories and expertise in France. Not being covered by an eco-label, the brand ensures it works with eco-responsible partners, certified Fair Wear, GOTS (organic textiles), GRS (recycling processes) and BSI (environmentally friendly products).

In addition to being part of a positive ecological approach, the labels allow you to communicate easily with your buyers. By ordering from you they know what to expect. An ecological attitude is always better than a polluting and disrespectful image! 

The environmental ethical trend of eco-friendly exports

Manufacturing abroad does not necessarily mean an ethical ecological disaster. In fact, no matter how committed you are to the environment, you may be forced to export your production line abroad depending on the types of products you sell. But this does not necessarily call into question your environmental policy as a committed brand.

To take the example of the French brand Né à, which manufactures its products exclusively in France: this is possible because the expertise and dermo-cosmetics factories are located in France. Otherwise, the company might have been forced to relocate its ethical production.

Similarly, Loom prefer to export the manufacturing of their clothing and accessories to Portugal, the cradle of the textile industry. Production is governed by European laws which ensure the quality of production and working conditions. Not to mention the fact thatLoom's teams can go out into the field at any time to see the reality and challenges of the market. During an interview with Bigblue, Clément Potier fromLoom said "Going on site is worth all the audits in the world".

In a more extreme case, Cabaïa was forced to export to Asia to manufacture flip-flops due to the lack of expertise and factories in France. Having said that, its choice of partner and its ecological labels Oeko-Tex and Vegan make it easy to understand that exporting is not synonymous with significant pollution.

Thus, exporting manufacturing abroad does not necessarily mean that an e-commerce company does not monitor their production and the reality of the circumstances. You can therefore export your logistics, while demonstrating corporate social responsibility.

3. The right mode of transport is essential in your eco-responsible and ethical approach 

Beyond the location of the manufacturing factory, other stages of the supply chain such as the transport of goods can have a substantial impact on the carbon footprint of your e-commerce. The choice between air, road, rail or sea can be complicated!

Sustainable commitment without air travel

Aircrafts live up to their reputation as the second most polluting form of freight transport. While the use of air freight is justifiable in the case of transporting perishable goods or in the case of emergency deliveries, it remains a real ecological disaster.

Fortunately, only 5% of freight flows are carried by air. It is an expensive means of transport, not very environmentally friendly and subject to delays.

Products transported by air are often checked, which can slow down deliveries and limit the number of journeys made.

That said, these restrictions do not prevent some fast fashion brands from sending their orders by air to work on a just-in-time basis. In total contrast to Loom's ethical principles, large companies tend to constantly create new collections. This has major environmental consequences, since 4% of the world's drinking water is used for their production. Not to mention the fact that the goods are brought in by plane to end up amongst the 4 million tons of textiles that are thrown away every year in Europe! 

As Lorraine Borriello, Director of Operations at Cabaïa, says, "Even though it is an ecological and environmentally friendly product, the less you produce the better". Especially when it hast o be shipped by plane!

Road, sea and rail routes: balancing environmental impacts

Fortunately, planes are not the only means of transporting goods, there are still trucks, boats and trains.

Road transport:

Road transport handles 90% of the flow of goods and is therefore responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. The use of the truck is very convenient. The routes are adaptable according to requirements and linking the axes together is not impossible. In addition, it is possible to wait for orders to accumulate before setting off with a truck: ecologically advantageous and economically advantageous! 

That said, even if it is a practical and environmentally friendly method, trucks still emit extremely polluting micro-particles into the air. Additionally, they can be slowed down by traffic and create bottlenecks on the roads themselves.

Much more eco-friendly than the airplane, road transport is used by Né à, Cabaïa and Loom. Rejecting the idea of express transport, Loom said, "We sell socks, we don't save lives. People can wait another 48 or 72 hours".

The boat:

Holding 10 to 15 times more goods than a truck, the boat is an excellent, less polluting alternative. Cabaïa and Loom both bring their products and raw materials by boat, which takes more time than by plane but is much greener.

Boat trips are not empty, and all goods can be delivered safely. In fact, for every 200 accidents related to the transport of goods, only 1 involves a ship. Whether by sea or inland waterway, boats may be slower, but they are safer and less polluting (even if the use of the wrong fuel can lead to the release of micro-particles).

The train:

A very good alternative to boats and even trucks, the use of railways is much more eco-responsible because it emits less CO2. In addition, the energy used to power the train can be electric and green. 

The China-Europe Railway Express

More and more railway lines reserved for goods are being developed. For example, in 2011 the China-Europe Railway Express was launched. This is a railway line covering several thousand kilometres which connects China to many European countries, including France.

The train option is twice as expensive as the boat, but half as expensive as the plane. That being said, we don't necessarily know the source of the electricity that powers the boat: coal, nuclear, green?

4. Multimodality: a solution for an environmentally friendly company?

Each means of goods transport has its advantages and disadvantages from an ecological point of view. For you re-commerce brand, the ultimate solution does not necessarily lie in a single means of transport but perhaps in several.

By combining the advantages of several means of transport, you can give priority to efficient delivery but also to the preservation of the environment. Multimodality could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35% nationally.

In addition to its ecological efficiency, combined transport also makes it possible to customize routes according to requirements and to optimize them from an economic point of view. This may not be negligible in the long term!

However, it does require a certain amount of organization to change each journey and to calculate the most worthwhile means of transport according to the routes. To relieve you of this burden, calling in a professional logistics firm can be an appropriate solution.

Whatever your choice, selecting the modes of transport has a direct impact on your ecological charter.

5. Assert your environmental approach with the ecological solutions that suit you!

As an e-commerce business, it is sometimes impossible to produce all goods in France. Depending on the types of products you sell, you may find yourself forced to export your production abroad to get closer to a specific area of expertise or a manufacturing plant.

But exporting is not necessarily an ecological disaster! Even if you don't have the choice of location, you have the choice of means.

Make sure that the production of goods is done in the greenest possible way. Find out about eco-labels, follow environmental guidelines and, above all, select the right means of transport.

However, the right means of transport will not always be the same for every journey. To avoid unnecessary pollution, you can use the principles of multimodality. Use a truck, barge, boat and/or train to optimize your journey, without emitting too many greenhouse gases!

In all cases, you can choose to work with a logistics specialist who listens to you, takes your priorities into consideration and adapts to the situation.

From the production site to the means of transport, you have all the cards in your hand to go green sourcing!

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