Online Retailing and Sustainable Products (April 2012)
Updates and Sector News
Global markets for organic and other certified products such as Fairtrade are growing at far faster rates than their non-certified counterparts. In parallel with this is the growth of specialist online retailers dealing only in certified products. We profile two examples.
TheGreenOffice.com is a San Francisco based company (and ekobai.com member) that rates and sells a selection of over 40,000 and states that it is “the only retailer that automatically ranks office products by Greenness (Dark Green, Green, or Conventional) and provides you with at-a-glance tools to make informed decisions about the products that you bring into your office”. The company uses a range of third party certification schemes to rank and screen its products including FSC, Fairtrade and certifications specific to the furniture business such as a standard relating to the use of formaldehyde and other chemicals in products. The company notes that many of its clients are in the service sector, and when it comes to their environmental footprint, they realize their greatest impact may lie in their purchasing – of paper, furniture, electronics and energy. In a way the TheGreenOffice.com assists in this by pre screening products. Offices are also highly concerned with health and safety issues, primarily indoor air quality which has been noted by the US EPA as the single biggest environmental threat to human health. Chemical-related standards as applied to carpets, furniture and paint can assist in a company’s office environmental management.
Another booming sector is organic, epitomized by the global success of Whole Foods, a multi billion dollar listed retailer of organic products. While Whole Foods has a robust online business of its own, Mile High Organics is an Internet only retailer based on Colorado that is certified by the California Certified Organic Farmers scheme. The firm states “we pick out the best fresh items, screen our groceries for harmful ingredients, and deliver right to your home in reusable packaging”. The firm’s business is restricted to the region around Boulder, Colorado at present, but clearly the business model could be replicated nationally or even globally. The selling point to health and ecologically minded customers is to rely on a small, locally based online firm selling local organic produce from nearby producers, as opposed to using the organic sections of larger retailers such as Walmart.com. Other examples of organic only, online only retailers are the Natural Grocery. in the UK and OrganicDirect in the New York area. This is a small but secure niche in the sustainability space likely to remain in the case of competition from larger online giants as customers may respect and prefer locally based delivery.
Ekobai.com is a supplier directory listing over 50,000 companies from around the world producing and selling products certified to sustainability and organic standards such as Fair Trade, FSC, MSC and the Soil Association mark. Our B2B directory is free for companies to list on and the information is open to all viewers at no charge. Companies listed on ekobai.com find new customers from around the world and buyers can short list and contact new suppliers based on ethical and sustainability criteria.