Around the same time as delegates from over 200 countries convened in Egypt for COP27, United Nation’s annual Climate Conference, the world’s largest shopping festival “11.11 Global Shopping Festival” also kicked off. While sustainable consumption has long been on the agenda against global warming, challenges still persist.
As one of the world’s leading technology companies, Alibaba Group has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality in its operations by 2030. At COP27, Alibaba offers its own answers to promoting sustainable consumption. Dr. Chen Long, the Vice President of Alibaba Group and Chair of Alibaba‘s Sustainability Steering Committee, presented some of the efforts the company has been making, including Alibaba Cloud’s self-developed immersion cooling technology used to reduce energy consumption for data centers, Alibaba‘s recycling scheme, as well as a low-carbon group standard drafted jointly by China National Institute of Standardization, Alibaba and Unilever.
Most of these solutions have already been put into practice for this year’s “11.11”, and the company’s actions can be seen along its entire value chain.
Cainiao: “Green supply chain is the future”.
“As the logistics arm of Alibaba Group, Cainiao not only considers sustainability goals as its social responsibility, but also a key strategy for developing the company’s core capabilities, because we strongly believe that in the future, green supply chain will become a fundamental competency. So we hope to start establishing our market presence on this front as early as possible, and develop our capacity to better serve our merchants and make the entire supply chain greener,” says Yuan Liu, Head of Cainiao’s Packaging Center.
During this year’s 11.11, Cainiao rolled out the “Green Recycling Box” scheme, encouraging consumers to recycle the packaging boxes of their parcels by rewarding them with “points” which can be exchanged to eggs, tote bags or other benefits.
Yi Yin, for example, bought herself snacks, instant coffee, and a yoga mat during this year’s 11.11. While she used to bring her parcels home before unpacking them, this year, she unpacked the parcels at the Cainiao station, and left the packaging boxes there for recycling. For this small change of behavior, Yi Yin was rewarded with four eggs and a tote bag. With all the “points” collected by leaving the cartons to Cainiao stations, she is now aiming to donate notebooks to students in rural areas, which are produced from the recycled cartons.
From November 1 to 11, 2022, 130,000 Cainiao stations across 315 cities in China recycled nearly 4 million carton parcel boxes, and the number is estimated to reach 6 million by November 20, representing a 50% increase from last year, when the campaign was launched for the first time. A daily average of more than 100,000 consumers dispatched parcels using recycled cartons at Cainiao Post stations during 11.11.
“We have done a lot of work on the customer’s end, but on the business end, there are actually more opportunities for sustainability. We believe that our work should not only focus on where it can be seen by the public. If there are more upstream supply chain opportunities, we hope to play a larger role there, too”, noted Yuan Liu.
In October, Cainiao initiated the “50g Carbon Reduction Alliance” with eighteen brands, including China’s leading diary product producer Yili, and Unilever, to explore carbon reduction strategy covering both the upstream and downstream supply chain. Through Cainiao’s packing algorithm, original packaging delivery solution, intelligent warehousing and other low-carbon practices, it is estimated that during this year’s 11.11, each parcel will see further carbon reduction. So far, there have been more than a thousand merchants with over 150,000 products pledging to become part of Cainiao’s green supply chain.
Tmall: Greener selling, greener buying.
According to Tmall, Alibaba‘s e-commerce platform and the main site where “11.11” takes place, this year saw a significant rise in the number of eco-friendly and low-carbon products, which reached 1.63 million, twice as many as last year. The number of Tmall brands that participated in this year’s Tmall 11.11 green campaign also increased from 13 last year to 40 this year, and 122 brands have now cooperated with Tmall to provide eco-friendly and low-carbon products and services to consumers. Notably, green smart home appliances, such as green air conditioners, refrigerators, washing machines, and so on, are among the most popular categories, which account for 37.5% of the home appliance category equipped with Tmall Genie, representing an increase of 25% year-on-year.
On the consumer’s side, more than 16.33 million people purchased eco-friendly goods during this year’s 11.11. Consumers are also spending more practically. For example, purchases of replacement packs increased 34% year-over-year.
THE BULK HOUSE is China’s first zero-waste brand. The brand aims to help people reduce daily waste and develop a greener lifestyle by selling planet-friendly, sustainable, plastic free, natural and reusable products, which cover a variety of categories from clothing, skincare to kitchenware.
In a recent interview with Pandaily, Carrie Yu, founder of THE BULK HOUSE said that since the brand’s founding in 2017, she has seen a growing number of consumers interested in sustainable consumption, and that the group has also become “purer”, in the sense that people are not just talking about sustainability, but also taking actions. “Otherwise we wouldn’t have survived, right?”
According to a survey conducted by China Sustainable Consumption Research Program, in 2016, already more than 70% of Chinese consumers were aware of sustainable consumption, but the willingness to pay for the premium of green products was only between 5-10%. A report released in April, 2022 by BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and Tmall however found that 56% of consumers with high-purchasing power on Tmall care about sustainable shopping, indicating a higher willingness to pay for the premium of green products compared with six years ago.
Carrie Yu admits that green products do have a higher cost, but that is an investment she is willing to make as a merchant.
“I would like to see this cost as an investment in the future. I want my future generations to live in a better environment, and so it is worthwhile in the long run”, Carrie Yu said, adding that by purchasing green products, consumers are also “voting with their money”.
As the largest online shopping festival in the world, each year, 11.11 generates significant online traffic, and it is the arithmetic power of cloud computing that’s behind each transaction peak during the yearly extravaganza.
In the second year running wholly on the cloud, this year’s 11.11 Global Shopping Festival has seen improved computing efficiency thanks to high-performance computing and innovative technology deployment. Computing cost per resource unit was reduced by 8% compared to last year from April 1 to November 11.
An example is the “soaking server” cooling technology that Alibaba presented at COP27. Alibaba engineers have developed an immersion liquid cooling technology by immersing the server in a special insulating coolant, which greatly reduces energy consumption for heat dissipation, and the PUE (power usage efficiency) can reach as low as 1.09, a world leading level.
Switching to clean energy is another effective way to reduce the carbon emission during 11.11. Alibaba Cloud’s five hyper-scale data centers across China also doubled the amount of clean energy used to support this year’s 11.11 compared to last year. More than 32 million kilowatt-hours of electricity used by Alibaba Cloud to support 11.11 this year came from renewable energy, up by 30% on a daily basis average compared to last year. Additionally, Alibaba Cloud’s Heyuan data center, the cloud company’s largest hyper-scale data center in South China, now runs entirely on clean energy.