When sustainability and ecommerce collide

Jun 17, 2021

As ecommerce sales and consumer expectations of sustainability both grow, GDR’s Managing Editor John O’Sullivan highlights the Top 5 innovations that hint at a more thoughtful future for online shopping.

The last year has seen a monumental step forward for ecommerce globally. Accelerated by the unique demands of the pandemic experience, 2021 is expected to be the first year that online sales in China will represent more than half of all sales, moving from 44.8% in 2020, to a massive 52.1% this year. But it isn’t just the world’s leading ecommerce market that is booming. In the UK, online sales reached a record high of 36.4% of all retail sales in January 2021 (up from 20.2% in January 2020), while the biggest growth in ecommerce sales last year was seen in sleeping giants like Latin America, which enjoyed year-on-year growth of 36.7%, and North America (31.8% growth).

While more people than ever are taking advantage of the speed and convenience of ecommerce delivery, the pandemic has also made consumers, brands and investors even more aware of the impending climate crisis. The inherent tension between these two shifts has led to a new generation of sustainability-focused product and service innovations built around lowering the environmental impact of DTC ecommerce transactions.

In this article we’ll pick out the top five innovations in this space that have caught our eye this year by following in the footsteps of Terracycle’s Loop.



Olive is a sustainability-focused batch delivery platform for fashion ecommerce that brings purchases from multiple brands to consumers’ doors in a single weekly shipment. Customers can browse a range of partner brands on the Olive app or choose Olive as the delivery option at checkout on third-party partner websites. Olive will then receive and consolidate all of the customer’s orders from that week and deliver them together inside a package-free tote bag on a designated day. The service is free for customers, with Olive’s revenue generated by taking a cut of each sale delivered by them.

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JOI is a plant-based DTC brand that sells its plant milks as concentrates in order to make them more sustainable. JOI makes almond- and cashew-based concentrates called ‘plant bases’, that arrive in the post in a fully recyclable plastic tub. The customer just needs to add the concentrate to water and blend to create the finished milk product.

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Seattle-based recycling company Ridwell translates the traditional at-home refuse collection service to hard-to-recycle items. Customers pay $10 per month to receive a Ridwell box, which sits outside their front door and is emptied by the company every two weeks. The box comes with four different tote bags where customers can place the four core categories that Ridwell focuses on: batteries, soft plastic, light bulbs and clothes. Once collected, Ridwell partners with a range of local non-profits, domestic recyclers, and community artists to give a new purpose or life to the recycled items.

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Smart Cups

Smart Cups use a proprietary 3D printing technology to create functional drinks when water is added to them.

The bioplastic cups can have ingredients such as caffeine, amino acids and vitamins printed on the bottom, which react with water to create drinks without any calories, sugar or carbohydrates.

While the cups are single-use, the brand positions them as being sustainable because of the benefits of removing water from the supply chain. According to the Smart Cups website, a truck that normally carries 96,000 12oz cans of soda, will be able to transport 1.2 million Smart Cups.

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Ace of Air

Ace of Air is a gender-neutral skincare and supplement brand that charges customers a non-refundable fee for renting its primary packaging. With each order placed on the DTC brand’s website customers are charged $2 extra per product, as well as $3 for the Boomerang Box they are sent in, which can be reused up to 100 times.

When they are finished with their products they are expected to send the used packaging back to the brand for free via UPS using the Boomerang Box. Customers failing to return the packaging will be charged $25 per pack and $20 for the Boomerang Bag.

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If you’re interested in talking to us in more detail about any of the themes discussed in this article, or the challenges you’re facing as a business, we’re here to help. Get in touch with rachel@gdruk.com

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