As we move closer to a post-pandemic world, society now demands greater responsibility from the companies they work with and retailers they buy from. Committing to sustainability is essential — so much so that making these changes early can offer a competitive advantage. A critical part of any sustainability effort is the supply chain, which has significant environmental impacts and can provide new value with the right initiatives in place. To get started, we’ve identified the top 3 trends in supply chain sustainability.


Sustainable Sourcing is In

One of the biggest shifts in the industry is the move toward sustainably sourced or alternative materials, which are beneficial for both retailers and consumers.

Leading the charge in the fashion industry is H&M Group, with their goal to use 100% recycled or other sustainably sourced materials by 2030[1]. “Recycled materials are a win-win: they stop waste material from going to landfill and reduce the use of virgin raw materials, as well as chemicals, energy and water used to make them,” a spokesperson said[2].

With any efforts involving sustainable materials, education is integral to all parts of the supply chain. Manufacturers already label every garment with its fiber content. But, marketers can use those labels to educate customers, thereby improving visibility, customer loyalty, and, ultimately, sales. Given the manufacturing and production challenges of using alternative materials, these items are also produced in smaller batches, which lend to exclusive, curated collections that generate demand. Therefore, it’s safe to say that sustainable sourcing has a strong future in the supply chain.


Say Goodbye to Packaging Waste

Have you ever opened an online order and noticed how much plastic was used to package a single item? Retailers sure have, which is why many supply chain managers are rethinking processes and instituting new ways to reduce packaging waste.

While some retailers are exploring reusable shipping totes to reduce packaging, fuel, and pollution, others are investing in reverse logistics solutions to further eliminate needless packaging and carbon emissions. For instance, our Express Returns offering at Staples Stores can enable contactless, labelless, and packageless returns drop-offs across 1000+ locations nationwide. This helps retailers and shipping carriers streamline their returns processing so consumers can avoid the hunt for a printer and boxanother win-win.


Reroute to Reduce Carbon Emissions

As ecommerce surged in 2020, so did retail’s negative environmental impact. In the past year, 16M metric tons of CO2 were emitted from the transportation of returns alone[3]. To reduce transportation emissions, retailers are leveraging technology to either reroute items to their next best home or cancel orders prior to shipping, thereby decreasing air pollution, needless trips to warehouses/stores/homes, and costs.

Optoro’s returns management technology helped prevent 4.68M lbs of carbon emissions by reducing transportation and increasing efficiency in the reverse supply chain in 2020[4]. It has never been more important for retailers to embed the right returns technology into their systems to reduce their carbon footprints.


We expect these 3 trends in supply chain sustainability to stay for the long-term. So, it’s imperative that retailers work with their supply chain managers to update their systems and set the right eco-friendly guardrails in place to run their business. We’re happy to talk through how reverse logistics technology can play a role here when you schedule a demo with our team.


If you’re interested in learning more than 3 trends in supply chain sustainability, check out these additional resources:

  1. Returns Report: Powering Resilient Retail in 2020
  2. Optoro – Environmental Impact
  3. Grow A Sustainable Business Through Returns



1. “On The Way Towards Sourcing 100% More Sustainable Materials” | H&M Group | March 18, 2019

2. “Sustainable sourcing at scale: H&M’s approach” | Supply Chain Dive | Aug 1, 2019

3. Analysis by Environmental Capital Group and Optoro on the impact of total U.S. retail returns, 2020

4. Powering Resilient Retail, Optoro 2020 Impact Report | Optoro, January 2021