E-commerce and sustainability: progressing together


In 2021, Safeshops.be, the electronic commerce association with its own quality and security label for online commerce, conducted a major survey into consumers’ habits and motivation when shopping online. This shows that, in general, both consumers and online shops want to better integrate sustainability into the online shopping experience. The Safeshops label is a consumer label that identifies reliable online stores. One of the criteria is being a member of Fost Plus, and thus taking responsibility for the recycling of packaging 

The Safeshops study among 279 webshops indicates that 45% of consumers say they consider the sustainability criterion when shopping online. However, three-quarters of those questioned were unable to give an example of a sustainable webshop!  Nevertheless, according to the survey 73% of webshops indicate that they pay particular attention to sustainability, compared with just 2% who don’t see the point. And yet it’s a matter of their societal responsibility. 

Focus on packaging 

The sustainability efforts are centred mainly around packaging, but are not limited to this. Whether it is the packaging itself, a more efficient means of wrapping or recycling, a number of aspects are considered. As regards packaging, webshops are increasingly striving to group orders, limit the packing materials used, reduce the number of parcels and gradually switch to reusable packaging. 

Moreover, a quarter of webshops say they are willing to use sustainable plastic packaging. By improving the quality of the product information provided on their websites, and with the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality, webshops are also reducing the return phenomenon. 

The Green Dot, the circular economy’s trump card 

There is a legal framework and imponderable obligations applying to all companies that put packaging on the market. This is known as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). To ensure the circular economy and guarantee the recycling rates required by law, producers are responsible for the packaging that they put on the market: either they take back the packaging waste after use in order to recycle it, or they join a system that manages collection, sorting and recycling, such as Fost Plus for household waste. Through the Green Dot, companies pay the real cost of the recycling chain of their packaging, based on the quantity and type of materials they put on the market. 

This measure applies equally well to e-commerce, which generates mainly paper and cardboard packaging, but also plastic bags. That’s why members of Safeshops.be or Becommerce obtain their label only if they join Fost Plus (collection, sorting and recycling of household packaging waste) and Valipac (collection, sorting and recycling of industrial packaging waste). However, there are still companies, both large and small, that do not join the Fost Plus collective system, either intentionally or because they are unaware of their legal obligations as regards responsibility. Fost Plus has undertaken to identify these companies and contact them to encourage them to fulfil their obligations so as to complete the circular economy. 

Specific sustainability goals for e-commerce 

The major stumbling block of e-commerce remains transport, as most consumers choose the least expensive delivery, giving little thought to the sustainable means of delivery. Cargo-bike delivery is gradually developing, but remains limited. So the choice of distribution logistics partner plays a crucial role for the circular economy, as regards both CO2 emissions and alternative transport. 

62% of webshops say they are in favour of a CO2 compensation system. 

Obstacles remain, however, particularly in terms of investments, as all these measures call for structural and logistic adaptations. 

But the game is worth the candle and the professional organisations recommend setting clear sustainability targets for online commerce. 


Survey results in full