Impact Stories by Deloitte Consulting


A sustainable partnership program that is changing the ecommerce ecosystem

Deloitte and PostNL started the program Econnections together with IKEA,, Mollie, and Google Cloud to make ecommerce more sustainable. By setting up partnerships between corporates and sustainability-driven startups and scaleups, multiple pilots were launched in the Econnections 2022 edition that impact the sustainability of the ecommerce ecosystem.

For this story Emma de Zeeuw and Charley Roelofs spoke with Anna Snijdoodt, Joep Arends, and Melanie Schuurman. This story was written by Emma de Zeeuw.

Don’t we all love the convenience of ordering something online? Fast delivery, flexible return policy, all without having to physically go to a store. But are you aware of the environmental impact of the ecommerce sector? Loads of plastic packaging and emissions due to transportation have a significant environmental impact. Econnections is an initiative to accelerate sustainability in ecommerce by connecting startups and scaleups with corporates and launching pilots that eventually contribute to that goal. 

This initiative came alive when PostNL reached out to Deloitte’s Customer Strategy & Design (CS&D) team because they wanted to work with startups and scaleups in ecommerce. Since it was not immediately defined what the goal of this project would be, the Deloitte team had conversations with all parties involved. A lot of different subjects were discussed, but there was one subject that stood out because everyone found this important: sustainability. So instead of having sustainability be one subject among others, how amazing would it be to make sustainability in ecommerce the main priority?  

“Instead of letting sustainability be one subject among others, we asked: why don’t we make sustainability our main priority?” 

An ambitious goal was set: generating ‘500 million (more) sustainable purchases’ by 2026, induced by a program that brings together impact-driven startups and scaleups, ecommerce and corporate logistics, academia and the technology sector to create solutions that reduce the environmental impact of ecommerce. To pull this off, the preconditions had to be spot on. The first important challenge was to, next to PostNL, get more corporate partners involved. To make real sustainable impact, Econnections needed a strong base of influential partners that collaborate towards the same goal.

Starting up the program from scratch was challenging, even quite intimidating. The project team had to take risks and deal with the uncertainty of setting up something completely new and doing pilots. Corporate partners must be willing to invest money to become more sustainable, and they needed pilots  to prove that Econnections is a program that is making a real sustainable impact.

"It can be frustrating: the price to compensate for CO2 emissions are very low. The question to companies then comes down to how much they are willing to invest in sustainability."

However, the success of the program stands or falls on the quality of the sustainable impact-driven startups and scaleups. An intense selection process ensured that the right startups and scaleups were chosen to participate. 

“Once we had selected the startups and scaleups, we felt that we had really found the quality we needed. It was now up to us to make the program a success and with the expertise within Deloitte, we were confident about the execution. That felt great.” 

The project team led the program with great enthusiasm and all participants of Econnections remained invested to work together towards their sustainable goal. Every meeting started with a reminder of the aim of Econnections to generate 500 million (more) sustainable purchases. The project team succeeded to always keep the motivation high by the incentive to remind each other of the common goal they have.  

“The goal was always repeated; it was the starting slide at every meeting. This is our collective ambition. We kept reminding everyone in a positive way and as a result everyone was motivated to reach this goal.” 

In September 2022, the first period of the Econnections program was concluded with a demo day. On this day Econnections proved their value in making ecommerce more sustainable. The goal of Econnections 2022 was to prove that the approach demonstrated real impact and has potential to reach the goal of generating 500 million (more) sustainable purchases by 2026. With the first million sustainable purchases realized and the knowledge that there will be a snowballing effect over the years when more and more pilots are launched, Econnections has convincingly validated their approach. The demo day also showed the value that the program has for the corporate partners and the scaleups involved. For corporate partners, the program has significantly helped them to reach sustainability goals that are on their strategic agenda. Scaleups showed concrete examples of how the expertise within the Econnections program helped them in their growth.

So, what are the core determinants that made Econnections the success it is? We can split this up in three simple, but critical elements: Econnections has the right approach in the right setting, using the right capabilities.

The right approach to make sustainable impact in this program is the combination of scale, delivered by the corporate partners, with proven good ideas, brought in by the sustainably driven scaleups. They complement each other, resulting in strong and impactful pilots.

The right setting was created when the project team chose to make sustainability the main subject. Sustainability is a non-competitive subject, which ensures that all these companies can work together to reach their collective goal.

Lastly, the right capabilities were present in this project. With insight from the future winners initiative, a Deloitte initiative to help startups and scaleups grow, and Deloitte being a corporate company itself, we understand both the needs of startups or scaleups and the corporate partners. In this project, the CS&D team could deliver the expertise and approach to successfully launch pilots. Additionally, Econnections generated a group of people with an enormous variation of expertise.  

“At CS&D, we are good at facilitating pilot projects and we understand how to bring scaleups and corporates closer together.”

The first edition of Econnections has come to an end, but in only a few months’ time the project team will already start with the preparations of the next edition. For the CS&D team working on this project, Econnections was highly motivating and meaningful, being able to work on a project that has proven to make a real impact. In upcoming editions of Econnections, more pilots will be launched to expand this impact and eventually reach the ambitious goal that was phrased at the start of the program.

If there is one important takeaway from this very special project, it is that we need to collaborate to achieve a new standard and a real sustainable market change, rather than working individually. Econnections has proven that their approach holds the potential to change the ecommerce ecosystem.

Are you interested in learning more about Econnections? Our very own podcast ‘The Ramp’ made an episode about sustainable innovation! Check it out here

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