Zappos' comprehensive approach to sustainability

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Courtesy of Smithers Rapra

Brad Tomm, Sr. Manager of Campus Operations and Sustainability, Zappos Family of Companies will be speaking at Smithers Pira's Sustainability in Packaging conference and exhibition. He will join speakers from Happyfamily Brands and Williams-Sonoma in our session on 'Getting a Sustainable Packaging Project Started: the Balancing Act of Sustainability vs. Cost and Meeting Supply Chain Needs.'

Brad ThommZappos is focusing on the supply chain as a main initiative for 2014 and Tomm will be sharing his expertise on the Private Label Supply Chain: Challenges of Program Development at Sustainability in Packaging 2014. At Zappos, Tomm is responsible for the implementation of strategic environmental projects in the areas of energy, water, recycling, logistics, green building and education. He also specializes in statistical and financial modeling of the company's energy, water and waste footprint. Tomm is Zappos' first full-time sustainability professional but joins an existing, passionate green team called L.E.A.F.

Tomm shared some thoughts with us in advance of this year's conference:

Can you share with us a little about what the main sustainability projects Zappos is currently working on are?

Zappos is working on a comprehensive sustainability strategy that spans across all of our operations. We focus on energy, water, green building, logistics, recycling and outreach. Most recently we moved our corporate campus from the suburbs to the heart of downtown Las Vegas. We renovated the old city hall, a building from the 60s-70s, into a fabulous LEED Gold, urban campus. Our new campus is the flagship of our sustainability efforts to date. Now we are focused on sustainable operations and have targeted our supply chain as a main 2014 initiative.

ZapposWhere do you see the main challenges still ahead for achieving true sustainability in the e-commerce market?

That's a tough question when you put 'true' in front of sustainability. Businesses are always trying to reduce their environmental impacts, but the reality is that our industry does significantly impact the Earth. I think there are four main areas of focus for e-commerce companies that include shipping, fulfillment centers, data centers, and supply chain. The good news is that most e-commerce companies benefit from the partnerships with shipping companies like UPS, FedEx, and the USPS who spend millions on efficient logistics and transport. Also, e-commerce companies can seek out efficient data centers and fulfillment centers who also have energy savings in their best interest as well. Finally, most of the major brands have resources dedicated to sustainability and efficiency because sustainability has a great business case. E-Commerce is more sustainable than people think. The 2008 Carnegie Mellon case study found that e-commerce has a lower carbon footprint than traditional retail mostly because of the carbon associated with customer transport to the stores. That said, as hard as this industry is working towards sustainable business, it will take major disruptions in each of the areas mentioned above to really achieve 'true' sustainability in the future.

What influence could companies like yours have to increase the sustainability of the supply chain with brand owners and suppliers?

We're surprised every day at how sustainable the established retail and apparel brands already are. Some of the top brands we sell on Zappos.com have been focused on corporate social and environmental sustainability for twenty-five years or more. New organizations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition are really achieving progress in greening the supply chains of their members' products. So what can we do to influence? We can collaborate with our established brands, we can support brands that are just learning sustainability, we can join industry organizations, and most of all, we can have fun doing this. Making a positive impact on one's company and planet really is fun and rewarding. We love it!

What are you looking forward to hear about at Sustainability in Packaging 2014?

I'm really excited about the lineup of speakers and the networking opportunities with the conference attendees. I think that this collaboration of thought leaders will foster the creative conversation needed to drive the industry further towards its sustainability goals.

Brad Tomm from Zappos is just one of the 50+ industry experts that you'll hear from at Sustainability in Packaging 2014 - register today!

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