For better or worse, online shopping is one of the biggest retail revolutions of the century. Not only do we suddenly have access to virtually any product or brand you can think of, but their location is no longer a barrier to entry. With some patience and a potential shipping fee, a moisturizer or pair of jeans can travel halfway around the world to your porch within a week.
But progress never comes without a price, and online shopping carries a substantial one: the environmental impact associated with shipping and packaging. With brands rolling out no-cost delivery memberships and free 2-day shipping, more shoppers than ever before are turning to online shipping to fulfill their purchases.
But a new service is trying to make online shopping more sustainable—one box at a time. Olive, the company in question, consolidates multiple online orders at different central hubs, recycles the extra packaging, and ships the bundled items to buyers in a recyclable vessel. Considering 800 million packages shipped out from the U.S. Postal Service in the time between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day alone, the number of cardboard, plastic, and foam packages in transit at any given time is enormous. What's more, each individual package delivery comes with its own substantial carbon footprint. Olive wants to see those numbers scaled way down.
The idea for Olive, both an app and a plugin for browser usage, came to founder Nate Faust one night as he took out the trash. Breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling, he had something of an epiphany. "It’s crazy that we're 25 years into e-commerce and the status quo delivery experience is still a single-use cardboard box filled with plastic air bubbles," Faust tells Byrdie. "Over 10 billion shipments a year are delivered like this to consumers' homes, and the majority of them are shipped one at a time." And that's exactly what Olive is looking to change.
How It Works
With more than 100 retail partners (and growing) linked up on the app and extension, Olive is surprisingly seamless. It works like this: you download the app or add the extension to your browser, and then shop the retailer sites affiliated with Olive like usual. Once you're ready to hit checkout, the address of your nearest Olive hub is entered instead of your home.
"Packages from multiple retailers are then sent to our consolidation and recycling hubs, where we unbox and consolidate their packages into a two-way Olive tote for delivery," Faust explains. What's better is the return system, which only requires putting the items back in your Olive tote and requesting doorstep pickup.
According to the brand, 75 percent of an online order’s carbon emissions are from packaging and the last mile of delivery. And each combined Olive delivery reduces the number of trips made to a consumer’s home, helping to minimize last-mile carbon emissions.
Free to use, Olive might be even more intuitive than the current e-commerce norm—that's probably why brands have been so quick to partner with the service. Faust says the response from retailers has been overwhelmingly positive, which he chalks up to their commitment to creating the easiest shopping experience possible. "Shoppers are looking for experiences that are in line with their values, which increasingly includes sustainability and reducing waste," he says, adding that there's no incremental cost for partners.
Faust is after the ultimate win-win here, and he wants to underscore that commitment. "We don't want people to feel guilty for shopping online," he explains. "The Olive service is not about compromise—it’s about a better delivery experience that is also better for the environment. Our overall long-term environmental impact will be maximized by having all customers love the Olive experience, not just those who are focused on their individual carbon footprint."
And really, anything that makes online shopping more sustainable already sounds like an ideal experience.