Navigating sustainability in the food delivery boom in China

  • Home
  • >
  • Analysis
  • >
  • Navigating sustainability in the food delivery boom in China

As China’s  food delivery industry thrives,  the ease of ordering in has become a hallmark  of modern convenience. However, the ecological ramifications of single-use packaging, from bags to containers, have raised concerns.

Platform economy’s soaring trajectory

In 2020, China’s  platform economy soared to  unprecedented heights,  reaching a staggering 3.5 trillion USD, marking  a remarkable 56.3% surge. This economic phenomenon, driven by retail e-commerce and food delivery, is shaping global economic and social landscapes.

In contrast to traditional business models, platforms create multilateral markets, wielding authority over participants. Their ability to govern user behavior through their online platforms fosters the platform economy’s robust development, distinguishing them from conventional enterprises.

Sustainability at the sore: a long-term imperative

Sustainable development in the platform economy goes beyond  a buzzword—it signifies  integrating  social and environmental costs into business models.

E-commerce and food delivery platforms are encouraged to align  environmental, social, and economic aspects, fostering  comprehensive and shared values. The long-term benefits of sustainable development extend beyond economic growth to job creation, enhanced productivity, optimized resource allocation, and technological innovation.

Platform responsibility: a national imperative

Against the backdrop of evolving regulations, the imperative for online platforms to actively embrace social responsibility is underscored. In 2021, the National Development and Reform Commission issued the Opinions on Promoting the Standardized and Healthy Development of the Platform Economy, emphasizing the need for a dynamic and innovative regulatory environment.

Further emphasizing the importance of social responsibility, in July 2023, Premier Li Qiang, during a symposium with platform enterprises, highlighted the pivotal role of these companies. Their responsibility lies not only in strengthening industry self-discipline and regulatory compliance but also in actively contributing to social welfare and maintaining a healthy platform ecosystem.

The Market Supervision Bureau played its part by introducing the Measures for the Supervision and Management of Online Transactions, putting additional pressure on platforms. This includes a broad spectrum of social responsibilities covering society, stakeholders, economy, charity, and the environment—where environmental responsibility is particularly vital.

Environmental challenges in food delivery

Environmental responsibility in  food delivery sector is crucial due to its heavy reliance on single-use packaging like bags, containers,  and utensils.  The proliferation of disposable plastics has prompted regulatory action to mitigate environmental impact.

To address the environmental challenges, regulations such as the Measures stipulate that e-commerce platforms, including food delivery platforms, implement rules encouraging merchants to reduce the use of disposable plastics.

Moreover, platforms must assess the overall usage and recycling of disposable plastic products and report to local authorities. This places an undeniable responsibility on platforms to reduce single-use plastics in collaboration with their merchants.

The rise of the “no utensils” option

As a response to environmental concerns, food delivery platforms introduced the “No Utensils” option in their ordering interfaces. This eco-friendly feature aims to curb the generation of plastic waste at its source, showcasing the platforms’ commitment to environmental and social responsibility.

Though replacing  outer packaging and containers poses  challenges, this new option provides  a practical means to cut down on  plastic waste. Major cities, including Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, have implemented regulations discouraging the active provision of single-use utensils by restaurants and delivery services.

Platform’s dilemma: balancing growth and responsibility

Despite the progress, challenges persist. Food delivery platforms grapple with  balancing growth and  environmental responsibility. Transparent reporting and communication channels with consumers are crucial.

Presently, these platforms fall short in providing direct feedback channels for environmentally-friendly features like “No Utensils,” leaving room for improvement in user communication. They need to prioritize information transparency, aligning with the growing environmental consciousness among consumers.

The business case for sustainability

Contrary to misconceptions, embracing social responsibility is not a unilateral effort. . While implementing eco-friendly features may incur short-term costs, the long-term benefits far outweigh them. For instance, the “No Utensils” initiative not only attracts environmentally conscious consumers and businesses but also enhances the platform’s brand image and reputation.

The proactive stance on environmental responsibility can be a catalyst for long-term growth. By encouraging merchants to adopt eco-friendly practices, platforms not only contribute to reducing their carbon footprint but also stand to benefit economically. Businesses can lower operating costs, improve their environmental standing, and align with consumer expectations, fostering a win-win scenario.

Conclusion: platforms paving the way for a sustainable future

As the food delivery boom persists,  platforms stand at  the crossroads of expansion and environmental accountability.  The path towards sustainability is not solely  an ecological necessity; it’s a strategic maneuver  aligning  with consumer values, nurturing  long-term growth, and positioning platforms as responsible entities within  the global marketplace.