How to build an eco-friendly direct-to-consumer brand
Peter Twomey - Guest Author Jun 10 2021
In today’s era of sustainability it’s exceedingly important, arguably now more than ever, for DTC brands to go green and become more eco-friendly. A sustainable DTC brand considers the environmental impact of different aspects of their business and works to mitigate that impact and even change it to be a positive one.
1. Why DTC brands are going green
2. Nine tips for building a sustainable DTC brand
3. Eleven eco-friendly DTC brands who've gone green
Why DTC brands are going green
Consumer mindset is evolving. Consumers care more about sustainability than ever before. A third of consumers value ethical practices in the products they buy. As climate change becomes an increasing concern, about one in five consumers are opting for low-carbon transport, switching to renewable energy, or cutting back on the number of flights they take. A desire for sustainable brands is surging with the younger generations—both Millennials and Gen Zers prefer to buy from sustainable companies.
As the spending power of these generations grows, DTC brands should be conscientious of their desires and what they look for when deciding whether or not to support a brand (hint: it’s sustainability).
The DTC market saw immense growth in 2020, largely due to the pandemic that forced consumers to change their shopping habits and buy products online that they normally would have bought in a storefront. In the coming years, DTC brands will need to work to differentiate themselves and appeal to consumers in order to both capture new audiences and generate returning customers.
Consumers are increasingly purpose-driven, meaning they care about supporting brands who share their values. If your DTC brand cares about sustainability and being environmentally-friendly, these consumers will recognize that. Not only will they support your brand, but they will also be increasingly loyal. Focusing on sustainability will help drive growth within your DTC brand by reaching new customers and increasing customer retention.
More and more brands are choosing to become more sustainable and eco-friendly in order to stand out from the competition, capture new customers, and do good for the planet.
9 tips for building a sustainable DTC brand
Becoming a more sustainable DTC brand is not an all-or-nothing approach. There are several actionable steps you can take to start changing the way your DTC brand impacts the environment.
Opt for recyclable packaging
Packaging contributes to huge amounts of waste, plus the actual production of plastic bags and cardboard boxes is detrimental to the environment. Look for packaging that is recyclable, or made from recycled materials. Bonus points if it’s biodegradable—like non-toxic packing peanuts that easily dissolve in water.
Sustainable packaging can be more expensive than traditional packaging, but look to decrease packaging over all. Eliminate packaging for each individual item in an order and stop sending extra marketing collateral that will end up in the landfill.
If you have customers that place multiple orders over a short period of time, ask them if they want to bundle their orders. This way they will go out in fewer boxes, both reducing the amount of packaging required, and result in fewer emissions generated from shipping.
Offer slower shipping
You can also provide a slower shipping option at checkout. This option can be more effective if coupled with an incentive, like a discount code for a future order. Target carries many private label DTC brands online and they’ve recently implemented a small change that will likely have a big impact long term. They rolled out a new feature that saves customers a dollar if they choose to have their order shipped in fewer packages. Small brands can learn a lot from market leaders like Target and adopt similar practices that lower operational costs and mitigate the environmental impact.
Expedited shipping takes a toll on the environment. The shorter time window does not allow vendors to consolidate orders and increases the need to send out delivery trucks that aren’t filled to capacity—subsequently increasing the need for more journeys and increasing the overall emissions from the shipping.
Source products from eco-friendly suppliers
Evaluating and changing your products is a great way to be more environmentally friendly. Brands can leverage platforms like Common Objective, which connects people with manufacturers, suppliers, buyers, and other resources to build a more sustainable business. Sewport is an additional resource that connects fashion brands to sustainable manufacturers. Your brand can also take the DIY approach. Create a set of standards that are important to your brand and your customers, then interview suppliers and manufacturers according to the standards you established. Make sure to verify that they’re doing what they say they are.
Close the loop with a recycling program
Depending on the nature of your products, consider creating a recycling program to take them back when they have reached the end of their lifecycle. This will decrease consumer stress about responsibly disposing of the product. This also gives you an opportunity to recycle or repurpose it into new products, or at the very least, ensure it is properly disposed of.
Adopt carbon offsetting practices
Carbon offsetting is a great way to reduce your brand’s carbon footprint. Tools like EcoCart can help measure your carbon footprint from manufacturing and shipping your products, so you can then offset it by donating to verified carbon offsetting projects that actively work to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
While most consider snail mail a thing of the past, some brands are still sending out direct mail. Putting aside the added expense of sending physical collateral, direct mail also results in more carbon emissions that pollute the environment. Not to mention that most of it ends up in landfills and is not properly recycled, if it can even be recycled.
Reduce your website’s carbon footprint
Whether or not you realize it, your site carries a carbon footprint. An optimized website reduces energy consumption and provides for a more sustainable internet experience. Improving SEO, compressing image size, and cleaning up your code are just a few of the ways you can make your website more eco-friendly.
Share your green initiatives with your customers
When you put in the effort to be more environmentally-friendly it’s important to let customers—current and potential—know! Being transparent about your eco-friendly initiatives helps build trust that you’re doing what you say you are. This will help strengthen your brand and improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.
11 eco-friendly DTC brands who’ve gone green
Eileen Fisher is an apparel DTC brand committed to sustainable practices throughout their supply chain. They practice “social consciousness” to support their initiatives surrounding human rights, environmental sustainability, and supporting women.
They use organic fibers, recycled fibers, and sustainable fibers such as wool and Tencel™ Lyocell. These options support clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment for workers and wildlife. They work to reduce their carbon footprint and water use. Eileen Fisher tracks and reduces their carbon emissions by way of carbon offsetting, and works to increase water efficiencies in their manufacturing process, like helping their silk dyehouse in China become bluesign® certified, which has reduced water usage by 20%.
Everlane is a sustainable DTC apparel brand that creates high-quality and timeless wardrobe staples. Everlane is committed to reducing their impact on the environment. They are working to eliminate new plastic by 2021, reducing the amount of waste generated and carbon emitted from making new plastics.
Everlane utilizes materials that have a less harmful impact on the environment, like certified organic cotton. Several of the factories they rely on for textiles are also LEED-certified. They also have an auditing process for all their factories. They complete over 50 audits a year—both announced and unannounced—to ensure that their partners are compliant with their standards and Vendor Code of Conduct. This is all done to increase transparency and ensure their partners are committed to the sustainability standards.
DTC apparel brand Marine Layer is building a responsible and sustainable business that takes care of both the community and the planet. They use low-impact virgin fibers and recycled materials throughout their product lines, and work with ethical manufacturers.
Marine Layer has established a t-shirt recycling program to help keep clothes out of landfills. They are working to expand it in the coming years to be able to recycle all forms of clothing, not just t-shirts.
Girlfriend Collective is a DTC athleisure apparel brand that focuses on making high-quality and eco-friendly pieces. Their packaging is 100% recycled and recyclable, and most of their fabrics are made from recycled plastics, like water bottles.
The factory that produces their products is SA8000 certified; this certification guarantees fair wages, safe and healthy conditions, and zero forced or child labor. Girlfriend Collective even utilizes eco-friendly dyes for their fabrics. Then the wastewater is carefully cleaned and cooled before it is released.
Eco-friendly DTC shoe brand Allbirds creates sustainable shoes in classic styles. Their shoes are made of a variety of environmentally friendly materials, like ethically-sourced wool, recycled bottles and cardboard, and castor bean oil.
Allbirds works with manufacturers who share their values and are committed to more sustainable practices. Additionally, Allbirds utilizes carbon offsetting to help mitigate their environmental impact from doing business.
Atoms is a DTC shoe brand that is redefining what it means to be a comfortable everyday shoe. Atoms is continuously working to further their sustainability initiatives. To cut down on water waste and pollution, they omit it from the dying process. By creating such high-quality handcrafted shoes their defect rate is far below the industry average at 5%, meaning less defective product is going to waste.
Atoms offsets the carbon footprint of shipping all orders with EcoCart. Since they’re 100% vegan, Atoms produces far less carbon emissions by using yarn than other animal products. Atoms shoes are 99% recyclable and they are working on creating a trade-in program to create a circular supply chain and close the loop.
Blueland is a DTC brand and Certified B Corp that sells eco-friendly cleaning products. Their products are a refillable system, so after the initial purchase customers can simply order refills rather than entirely new bottles. This helps to reduce the amount of single-use plastic, and refills come at a lower price for the consumer.
All their packaging is either recyclable or compostable. Blueland provides carbon neutral shipping in order to offset the environmental impact of shipping their products. They also audit their factories to ensure proper usage of water and energy.
DTC jewelry brand, Everling Jewelry, is redefining sustainability in the jewelry industry. They use recycled metals in their pieces, and repurposed diamonds or Canadian diamonds as they are more ethically mined.
They don’t provide certain types of jewelry because of the toxic nature of making them in order to protect both the health of their jewelers but also the environment. Everling Jewelry also makes a commitment to work with companies that manufacture their products in the U.S., use recycled and repurposed materials, have a commitment to fair trade, and whose products and processes are not toxic to humans, animals, or the environment.
Feminine hygiene DTC brand Thinx is changing the game with their period underwear that replaces traditional period products. Sustainable in nature, these products are reusable and reduce the need for single-use items.
Thinx also has a “Products Made Better” program that recycles industrial sludge into paving bricks, with 220,000 bricks having been produced so far. Thinx is working toward being zero waste by 2025.
4Ocean is a Certified B Corp and DTC brand that sells bracelets that come with their One Pound Promise to pull one pound of trash from the ocean, rivers, and coastlines. Each purchase helps fund our global ocean cleanup operation and supports a growing movement to end the world’s reliance on single-use plastic.
4Ocean is also part of 1% for the Planet, meaning they donate one percent of sales to environmental nonprofits. They are also working toward a closed-loop manufacturing process, and are making new products out of the plastic they remove from the ocean.
Aether Beauty is a DTC beauty brand that is creating eco-friendly products. Their packaging is 100% recyclable and made from recycled materials. They researched different materials and removed anything that was not recyclable, like magnets and mirrors, in order to ensure that their products would not sit in landfills after they were used up.
They are part of 1% for the Planet and help support environmental nonprofits. Ather Beauty provides their customers with the option to offset the carbon footprint of shipping their orders as well.
GEM Vitamins is a DTC supplement brand that makes plant-based and minimally processed vitamins. Their packaging is designed to eliminate single-use plastics. They use recyclable, compostable, and reusable containers to reduce their footprint.
And with a focus on using algae in their supplements, GEM supports a carbon-neutral, eco-positive food system. Algae produces 50% of the world's oxygen, and requires minimal resources to grow. They also ship their products in recyclable mailers and recyclable shipping boxes.
Turning your DTC brand into an eco-friendly one does not have to happen overnight—the important thing is that it happens. It's important to be sustainable in the eyes of customers and to actually do something to back your sustainability claims. Consumers care about the environment, and they want to support brands that are working to show they care too. With the growth of DTC brands and changing consumer mindset, going green is the smart decision for your brand and the environment.
By Peter Twomey - Guest Author
Peter Twomey is the co-founder and COO at EcoCart. Peter's professional passion is building software solutions that solve problems he experienced-first hand in his time as an entrepreneur. In his free time, you can find Peter skateboarding around San Francisco and cleaning up the beach with his dog Butters.