Sustainability in Ecommerce 2021

Europe’s Consumers, Retailers, and Brands Come to Grips with the Challenge

Executive Summary

The pandemic brought a surge in ecommerce across Europe—and also increased consumers’ awareness of sustainability issues. Retailers and brands are under pressure to make online purchasing more sustainable—and both can benefit from doing so.

What are the key sustainability issues arising from ecommerce?

The main concerns are how digital purchases are packaged, delivered, and how returns are sent back to the retailer. Each of these aspects encompasses overall cost, time, materials, and greenhouse gas emissions.

How are Europe’s consumers thinking about sustainability in 2021?

The pandemic generally increased consumers’ awareness of the environmental impacts of ecommerce; in 2021, many digital buyers are trying to choose eco-friendly brands. They expect brands and retailers to make packaging and deliveries more sustainable.

What role can brands and retailers play in representing and promoting sustainable ecommerce?

Both brands and retailers have a great opportunity to embody and endorse sustainability in their production, packaging, and messaging, as well as in their delivery methods. A number of fashion and accessories labels are pioneering new standards of manufacturing, while some leading grocery brands have joined industrywide initiatives to reduce packaging waste and promote reuse of containers. “Greenwashing”—overstating a commitment to eco-friendly values—is a problem for some brands, however.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report explores how consumers, retailers, and brands in Europe are addressing the issues of sustainability associated with ecommerce, as digital buying grows and the need for improvements becomes clearer.

KEY STAT: In Germany, around one-third of digital buyers said they would return packaging or accept longer delivery times to make their ecommerce purchases more eco-friendly.

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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Sustainability in Ecommerce: A Growing Priority
  3. Key Issues for Digital Buyers
  4. Consumers Aim for More Sustainable Lifestyles
  5. Retailers: Even Partial Steps Toward Eco-Friendliness Pay Off
  1. Brand Moves Toward Sustainability
  2. Packaging: A Revolution in Progress
  3. Rethinking Delivery: Focus on the Last Mile
  4. Where Does Marketing Fit In?
  5. Key Takeaways
  1. Read Next
  2. Sources
  3. Media Gallery

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Karin von Abrams


Alina Brentnall
Researcher, Europe
Matteo Ceurvels
Research Analyst
Suzy Davidkhanian
Principal Analyst, Retail & Ecommerce
Bill Fisher
Senior Analyst
Jennifer Jhun
Research Director, International and Special Projects
Angela Kim
Senior Researcher
Jennifer Pearson
VP, Research