Eco-friendly Shipping: Sustainable Shipping and Packaging Tips for Your Business

Pitney Bowes has a long history of leadership in shipping. It also has a longstanding commitment to environmental stewardship — a commitment it extends to employees, clients, partners, and customers.

What is eco-friendly shipping and how can you implement in your small business? Here are the top inside tips from the industry experts.

Every year, Pitney Bowes tracks the number of parcel shipments worldwide. 159 billion parcels were shipped in 2021, and that figure is projected to grow by as much as 11.5 percent year over year through 2027. All that growth is great for business, but consumers are increasingly concerned about the impact on the climate change and the environment. Freight shipments generate 30 percent of all fuel-related carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, and a whopping 91 percent of US packaging waste ends up in landfills or in the environment. Fortunately, there are many solutions available to help your businesses make the move to more sustainable packaging and eco-friendly shipping.

Consumer trends will always influence enterprise operations, and consumers who value sustainability features are most moved by quantifiable action, such as a company’s use of sustainable materials or environmentally responsible manufacturing — to the tune of 42% for each feature. These consumers are less driven by carbon offset programs and low carbon output delivery, at 29% and 32%, respectively. Recent advances in packaging materials are making sustainable shipping practices more economically beneficial.

With sustainability trends influencing market shifts, companies keen to capitalize on the changes must anticipate and adjust to customer preferences. Offering easy options for sustainable, streamlined production, packaging, and shipping is key to future success.

The dispersion effect

All these trends have converged to alter consumer expectations — and enterprise operations — in recent years. With the desire for quick delivery and the rising demand for environmental responsibility, balancing speed and sustainability is an enormous challenge for businesses. And the increase in remote and hybrid work models affects commercial purchasing and shipping as well. Consider the logistics of an enterprise-wide technology upgrade for a globally distributed workforce. Even a relatively simple equipment exchange means orchestrating shipment, delivery, and returns to multiple residential locations around the world.

One notable byproduct of remote and hybrid work models is the increase in employees moving away from homes in densely populated urban areas to more sparsely populated suburban and even rural areas. A surprising 32% of adults have decided to move in the next year to year and a half, with up to 33% of those moving to less populous areas. The implications of this trend are both logistical and environmental. Efficient, sustainable delivery practices are essential for managing costs, time, and environmental impact in a more dispersed business world.


Best practices for sustainable eco-friendly shipping

As environmental sustainability moves up the corporate priority list, and shipping volumes continue to increase, enterprise solutions should focus on best practices in the following operations:

1.Sustainable delivery.

Sustainable packaging. Aim for carbon-neutral shipping: choose shipping partners with sustainable delivery strategies, such as strategic route planning and low- or zero-emission vehicles.

2.Opt for sustainable packaging.

Sustainable packaging. Packaging strategies include a range of options for reducing waste and environmental impact. Eco-friendly packaging reduces your company’s carbon footprint, but sustainable packaging is also about identifying the right package size for a shipment and more efficient use of package space (e.g., multiple item arrangement within a box).

3.Use eco-friendly shipping supplies.

Choose compostable shipping labels, biodegradeable packaging tapes and stickers. If you want to have truly eco-friendly packaging, you also need to think inside the box. Replace filling materials like bubble wrap and styrofoam peanuts, which can remain in landfills for hundreds of years, with biodegradable fillers like cornstarch peanuts, corrugated inserts, recycled craft paper, or inflatables made of recycled materials.

4.Downsize your packaging.

Less packaging means less cost, and less waste going into landfills. Because every square inch of packaging material adds either a financial or environmental cost, reducing your product-to-package ratio can have a significant impact on your bottom line and the success of your sustainability initiatives.

5.Consolidate orders.


  • Order consolidation. Combining multiple items into fewer shipments is an easy adjustment with the potential for significant impact. A consolidated shipping strategy reduces package waste and carbon emissions from multiple deliveries to the same destination.
  • 6.Schedule pickup

    Carriers use sophisticated route planning software to optimize driver routes, limit vehicle usage, fuel consumption and labor costs. So it is often more environmentally responsible to call to arrange a pickup instead of driving to the Post Office or carrier location to drop packages off

    7.Utilize smart shipping technology.


  • Smart shipping technology. A scalable, integrated SaaS management platform provides real-time data for greater visibility and drives efficient, sustainable shipping decisions.
  • 8.Make returns sustainable.

    Eliminate the need to re-package online returns. Encourage customers to bring items they want to return a nearby brick-and-mortar store instead of shipping them. Another alternative is to offer returnless refunds. This strategy reduces shipping expense as well as the cost of vetting the condition of returned items and deciding whether to restock or dispose of them.

    9.Ship items in their own containers.

    SIOC, or “ships in own container” is a method of shipping items without the use of an outer box. SIOC packaging must be durable enough to withstand any minor dents or cuts while keeping the product inside undamaged. As such, SIOC is not only a more sustainable packaging option; it also reduces the overall packaging expense.

    10.Make more use of ground shipping.

    Time in transit is directly related CO2 emissions and environmental impact. Express delivery services usually transport shipments in planes, which have a high carbon footprint. Ground shipments are transported by trucks or trains that have a significantly lower carbon footprint.

    CO2 (in grams) per metric ton of freight and km of transportation  
    Airplane 500+ g
    Truck 60 – 150 g
    Train 30 – 100 g

    11.Encourage reuse and recycling.

    Many packing materials can be reused over and over again. Communicate with your customers on ways they can use reuse or recycle packaging materials and empower them to take an active role in environmental stewardship.

    12.Purchase carbon offsets.

    Shipping releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in many ways, but primarily through the cutting of trees and vehicle emissions. Your company can purchase carbon offsets to compensate for these emissions, resulting in carbon-neutral shipping. The money goes to fund projects that remove or eliminate carbon emissions. Many organizations that sell carbon offsets also offer shopping cart plugins that give your environmentally-conscious customers the option to purchase carbon offsets to make their deliveries carbon-neutral.

    13.Reduce waste with reusable or return-ready packaging.

    Reusable packaging allows either the business or the consumer to refill packaging with the same type of product, and is ideal for items like personal care products that are bought frequently, are consumed quickly and have a high level of repeat purchases. Return-ready packaging is designed with re-use in mind, such as pull-tab boxes or double-sealed mailer envelopes that can be opened without damage and easily resealed for return.

    Why is sustainable packaging important?

    Sustainable packaging is important to your company’s reputation, its bottom line, and its long-term success. Consumers are becoming more environmentally conscious, and they are making changes to their lifestyles in an effort to minimize their carbon footprints. Sustainability now drives many purchase decisions: according to a recent study, 57 percent of consumers said they would be less likely to buy products with non-sustainable packaging.

    How does sustainable packaging help the environment?

    Businesses that make the switch to sustainable packaging can drive significant environmental improvements, including lower CO2 emissions that drive climate change, less trash in landfills and lower levels of microplastics and chemicals such as phthalates, which are used to make plastics flexible, in our waterways and soil.

    Why should packaging be sustainable?

    In addition to social and ethical issues, there is a mounting global trend to use legislation to address the impact of packaging—and especially plastic packaging—on the environment. These include restrictions on single-use plastics, recycled content mandates, restrictions on the use of PFAS (chemicals with indestructible or non-stick properties that are widely used in packaging) and EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) laws that make manufacturers responsible for the entire product lifecycle, including recycling and final disposal.

    From environmentally conscious production to low-emissions delivery, making sustainability improvements is not only possible—it’s the right thing to do. Science is creating new biodegradable materials that do not add to landfills, and developing more responsible strategies for the use of renewable resources. Production technology, such as digital printing, and smaller, redesigned packaging is reducing waste while maintaining — if not improving — aesthetics and functionality. No matter what your industry or where you are located, there are resources available to support your transition to more sustainable packaging and shipping. It’s an investment in the future that can potentially reduce costs, win customer loyalty and grow your bottom line.

    Technology, innovation, and continuous improvement offer greener, more efficient options for production, packaging, and shipping operations.

    Explore our shipping solutions.

    International Transport Forum, The Carbon Footprint of Global Trade -

    Environmental Defense Fund -

    Global Buying Green Report -