Picture credit: Business Insider. Employees sort boxes after Singles Day online shopping in China.
When we mention any of the Sustainable Development Goals, we know they are our best chance to guarantee a better future for our planet and for us. But how many of us are really committed to them and truly aware of their urgency?
There are fundamental changes in our society and industries that have to be implemented now in order to tackle major issues that are no longer a science fiction movie, but a disturbing reality. Over-population is a phenomenon that is constantly growing and that is a main cause of environmental crisis. But is it simply that we are too many people, or do our consumption behaviours lead us to buy more than we actually need?
Our generation has witnessed an era of consumption, waste and environmental change; this is the world where the new generation is growing. We are stretching the planet’s capacity in order to keep up with our lifestyle, unsustainable as it is. Even though we are aware of the issue and the potential catastrophes, we are still not motivated enough to take action. Despite improvements in certain areas, not enough has been done and we need to accelerate the progress.
If we go a few years back in time and consider the causes of our behaviour, we can easily realize that the Internet has massively impacted our lifestyle. With a few clicks on our phone we can purchase goods and services that can be delivered to our doorstep the next day — not so long ago it would have seemed impossible. Global e-commerce sales reached 2.3 trillion US dollars in 2017 and it’s expected to become the largest retail channel in the world growing to 4.88 trillion US dollars by 2021.
Over the past ten years, I have worked for a multinational Chinese company with significant catalogue businesses all over the world. I started working in Latin America for the textile market and I witnessed the massive growth of the Chinese economy over the years. This exponential growth depended on China’s massive production capacity and low labour cost. China has transformed our worldwide economy by giving us access to an infinite number of goods at the lowest prices. Even when I was working in Colombia, I was perfectly aware that the huge offer of products provided by China might have led to frantic and excessive consumerism. But when I joined the London branch of the company three years ago, I understood even more that the situation was serious.
Consumerism is not just alive and well, it’s growing. And it’s not only because we can easily place an order online, but also because of the incredible number of items offered by different suppliers at extremely low prices. Platforms like Amazon favour quick and effortless orders, which allow us to buy things that sometimes we don’t need or will never use. By now, we can already state that consumerism is a big deal, but we have not talked about returns yet.
Returns have always been one of the biggest problems for retail: more than 30% of products are returned. When an item is returned or exchanged (in the UK, customers often have 30 days to return an item without a reason needed), there is an increment in the supply chain costs, and often the item cannot be resold due to damages, wear and tear, or devaluation due to the passage of time — particularly in fashion or seasonal merchandise. The increasing cost of returns is a crucial problem for many retailers and it deserves to be considered and fixed as soon as possible.
So where do returns go? This is not an easy question to answer. This is a problem with a big question mark and in need of an urgent solution. Many retailers dispose of the items and they end up in landfills or being incinerated. As e-commerce continues to lead the way in the retail industry, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
E-commerce is a complex system and the digital transformation of our economies and societies requires a partnership between companies and the international community to create awareness of the impact on waste. We have a responsibility to promote more effective collaboration between policy systems that enable and reward sustainable business and economic systems that allow raw materials, components and finished goods to be reused in the circular economy.
Digitalization will continue to transform what we do and how we do things; the trend is set to continue in the upcoming years. It raises the need for all countries, businesses and people to consider what actions can be taken in order to be ready to solve the problem. Partnerships provide opportunities for businesses to achieve more than they can obtain alone and the private sector is the main player in global trade, as businesses can become a driver of inclusive growth and sustainable development.
E-commerce provides a case in point and there is a long way to go with plenty of actions to take, but there are some fundamental topics to start with that can help in the transformation process. E-commerce companies can help their suppliers to deliver a better product or service; they can also map their value chains and key products to identify potential faults or limitations.
There are new platforms addressing these issues and helping businesses to resolve them, we just need to spread the word and create conscience and connections between people working on it. After three years working for the e-commerce sector, I realized that something needed to change. I was not happy about being part of the problem and I wanted to become an active participant of the solution- which is how I ended up working for Globechain.
Globechain is a reuse marketplace that connects corporates to charities and people, creating social impact through waste and creating a partnership between different industries. Our main purpose is to lead the way towards a waste-free world and enable the circular economy, because almost everything can be reused, recycled or up-cycled. Our company is commercial with a conscience; we are a business that is working towards a better world by finding a way to bring consumerism and sustainability together. This is proof that there is a way to lead our economy into a new age. We need to change the way we are doing business and stop being selfish; we need to think about our community, our environment and our planet for future generations.
The time to do something is now, and the challenge is everywhere!
Facts and figures taken from Partnership exchange 2018 report: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/2569Partnership_Exchange_2018_Report.pdf
Connecting the dots for sustainable development: e-commerce and the SDG’S: https://etradeforall.org/connecting-dots-sustainable-development-e-commerce-sdgs/