Conversations We Need to Have About Sustainable Shipping

Conversations We Need to Have About Sustainable Shipping

We’ve all seen the jokes and memes over the years about Amazon and over sized boxes full of air packs and small items. Most of us snicker at them, maybe complain at the waste, and move on; but what if we demanded better?

You may think this is impossible, but small businesses around the world make these choices everyday. For many, it comes down to caring about the environment and how we want to leave the planet for future generations. They take on the costs that may come with using sustainable materials, while consumers just assume larger businesses can’t afford to make the change this late in the game. After all, big business has employees, investors, and CEOs to pay. 

If we take a step back and really look at the costs, it may surprise you. Since I can’t speak on mega businesses like Coca-cola or Nike, I can speak on my business and touch on the jokes about Amazon’s crazy package sizes. So let’s pull back the curtain and see what it takes to ship sustainably as a small candle business.

ABCs of Shipping Candles

Shipping candles comes with lots of logistical issues ranging from the weather to packaging. For simplicity’s sake we won’t list everything we use to ship our items since you can find the full list here. Just know the basics are the box it goes in and the void fill needed to keep the candle safe.

Boxes come in a variety of types, from your standard slotted box (the square ones) to tab locking, you’ll see some standard sizes being used by lots of businesses. In our case, we use custom sized tab locking boxes from EcoEnclose and keep three different sizes in stock. We lovingly refer to them as a two candle box, three candle box, and our incense box. They take a bit of extra time to put together, but they provide a nice snug fit for our candles and incense.

Void fill is another main portion of shipping candles. With this you want something to fill the open space around the candles so they don’t bounce around in transit. Most candles are made using glass containers, so some of the common void fill you’ll see is bubble wrap or crinkle paper. Some of the other options include packing peanuts, air packs, kraft paper, and on occasion thermal bubble wrap. The latter is sometimes combined with ice packs and is usually seen in the summer to keep candles from melting while in transit.

From here the packaging can go many directions which brings in a variety of hurdles for sustainable shipping. Errant Viridia strives for plastic free shipping as one of their sustainability goals, meaning you won’t find plastic bubble wrap, polystyrene peanuts, or even thermal wrap. This does present some interesting packaging issues, but most are what we would consider vanity issues, which is a whole other topic.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

In these comparisons we’ll be focusing on the COST aspect of shipping sustainably, not all the variations of what sustainable entails. 

Since so much goes into packing a candle, we have to make this more of an apples to apples comparison than an apples to oranges so here’s the specifics we’ll be using:

Box Size: 6x6x6

Void Fill: Bubble wrap and packing peanuts

Closure: Clear Packing tape

Shipping Label: Thermal 4x6 labels

Using these parameters, we’ll also use EcoEnclose and Uline for price comparisons. We use EcoEnclose for our shipping items except for our packing peanuts which we get locally at U-Haul. We have used Uline before for some items, but their wide selection of shipping items can’t be beat, which is why it’s a popular choice for businesses. The difference between the two companies is that EcoEnclose is built around offering the most sustainable shipping options where Uline is focused on bulk buying shipping supplies. Bulk buying is very common among businesses since this usually provides the best deals when it comes to pricing with a focus on sustainability second.

 EcoEnclose Uline
Box 0.42 0.43
Bubble Wrap 0.11/ft (GreenWrap) 0.06/ft
Packing Peanuts 3.97/cu ft* 2.57/cu ft
Tape 0.04/ft 0.01/ft
Shipping Label 0.04 0.07

*- from U-haul, not EcoEnclose

The first thing to note is overall in the cost breakdown Uline comes up as cheaper, but EcoEnclose is much more small-scale friendly. Uline leans more towards bulk ordering so you see larger savings with things like tape and bubble wrap. So let’s take our box and say that it takes all of the above amounts to ship one candle (for math’s sake).

EcoEnclose: $4.58 in shipping supplies

Uline: $3.14 in shipping supplies

That means it’s $1.44 cheaper to ship using supplies from Uline.

The Business of Capitalism

So now that we’ve seen what a very basic apples to apples comparison is, it’s easy to see why businesses would go with the less sustainable option.In the above example, the bubble wrap between EcoEnclose and Uline is huge savings when you spread it out across multiple packages. Does this make the business that chooses the cheaper potentially less sustainable option a bad business? 

Not necessarily, for many small businesses sustainability is just something they can’t afford in the beginning. While Errant Viridia places its value in sustainable packaging, we pay more for our shipping supplies and, at this stage in our business, the vanity appeal of it as well. At the same time this doesn’t make us better than the next company, it’s just where said business places their value.

Taking this away from small businesses, what does this mean for large scale businesses? Most large scale businesses focus on the vanity of a package, meaning they’re interested in the experience the customer has when opening the package. Brightly colored boxes, pretty ribbons, and the like are more memorable when it comes to buying yourself a treat. Again this isn’t necessarily bad and with most brands it's part of the cost of buying from them. After all, if you got a diamond bracelet from Tiffany’s and it came in a brown box wrapped in kraft paper, you’d feel cheated.

However, this is where big businesses embracing sustainable options is key. Not only do they ship the most packages, but they also have more packages littering landfills. By taking even small steps into sustainable options they help promote larger changes within their customers, but it also takes education. This also comes at a cost, how do you add said education without adding to your cost? It’s all about the almighty dollar at the end of the day and most big businesses aren’t willing to pay said cost.

While some big companies are slowly making the switch to more sustainable options, remember to keep holding them accountable. Remind them that if small businesses can make it happen and still safely deliver their products while delighting their customers, so can they. After all, what are profits if there’s no planet left?

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