eCommerce Expert James Connell of Carbon Balance: How to Balance Profitability and Sustainability

James Connell

In 2024, sustainability measures are arguably more important than ever for every brand, from brick-and-mortar stores to exclusively eCommerce sites. But, how do eCommerce brands guarantee profitability while still being good to the environment?

On the latest episode of The eCommerce Toolbox: Expert Perspectives podcast, host Kailin Noivo is joined by James Connell, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Carbon Balance. Together, they delve into how the 2002 Olympics kick-started the growth of Canadian brand Roots, the evolution of omnichannel over the past two decades, and how to balance eCommerce profitability with sustainability measures.

Winter Olympics: A Catalyst for eCommerce Growth

James has worked with one of the most notable businesses, Roots, a leading Canadian lifestyle retailer. 

In the late nineties, the brand overinvested in the new opportunities the Internet posed, ultimately leading to everything crashing in the early 2000s. James had to work to rebuild the capabilities in an effective, smart way that allowed them to prepare for when consumers were ready to adopt the new technology.

Fast forward to the 2002 Winter Olympics, where Roots outfitted the Canadian, US, and British teams and launched related merchandise. As soon as the products launched, the website and phone systems crashed. They implemented a fax line to fix it, receiving over 7,000 faxes in just two hours.

It was suddenly clear that digital channels were no toy; they were impactful, and kick-started Roots’ growth.

The Evolution of Omnichannel

With the success of their digital channels after the Olympics, Roots shifted to an omnichannel approach. At the time, omnichannel offerings meant aligning pricing and promotions, and understanding how to attract a customer to one of two channels.

Nowadays, however, it’s all about empowering customers to shop in any way they want to, through any channel. After all, each customer only has one wallet they use across all channels, so to be an effective omnichannel merchant, your focus should instead be on using the information you derive from each channel to influence the others through a centralized customer data platform.

James Connell on the evolution of omnichannel in eCommerce

Profitability versus Sustainability: How to Find the Right Balance

In his role at Carbon Balance, James is a Co-Founder in the clean tech space. This means he has to balance eCommerce profitability with ensuring sustainability, particularly when it comes to mitigating the brand’s carbon footprint. 

He focuses on this balance in the realm of consumption. He shares an example from his time at Roots to illustrate this. Their vendors often said that every individual item had to be in poly bags, even though that didn’t fit with the Roots brand. James and his team worked with their partners to change this requirement, removing the poly bags, saving on packaging costs, and giving consumers a nicer experience when they receive their parcels. 

Although this worked out cheaper for Roots, sustainability measures can now be more expensive for brands. James is hopeful that as more large companies adopt environmentally friendly practices, it will become less niche. In doing so, it will be more cost-effective to be sustainable for all brands.

James Connell on balancing profitability and sustainability

The Undeniable Impact of AI on eCommerce

AI technologies are constantly becoming more advanced and increasingly more widespread. With each advancement, new opportunities become apparent. James is hopeful they will be able to help consumers understand the best product to buy. Instead of buying six different sizes in six different colors, customers will be able to buy just one or two, thanks to the recommendations made by technology integrated into eCommerce sites.

On top of this, he hopes AI will reduce shipment sizes by determining the best location to ship products to so they get to customers in the least amount of shipments and in the best size package.

Measures such as these should reduce the environmental impact of online shopping by avoiding tying up inventory and unnecessary carbon emissions from returns or inefficient shipments. This is yet another way that brands can balance profitability and sustainability measures.

Listen to the Full Episode Below!

Tune in to this episode of The eCommerce Toolbox: Expert Perspectives with James Connell to learn more about balancing profitability and sustainability.

👉 Apple: https://bit.ly/48uh5Jo

👉 Spotify: https://bit.ly/48sqjWK


James Connell is a true visionary in digital commerce and customer experiences. With over two decades of strategic leadership, James has been at the forefront of omni-channel commerce, pioneering the growth of Roots, one of Canada’s most beloved lifestyle brands, from its nascent eCommerce stages to an impressive $100 million revenue stream. Now, as the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at Carbon Balance, James is channeling his insight into bridging the gap between business growth and sustainability, proving that environmental consciousness can go hand-in-hand with eCommerce profitability.

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