How sustainability is changing product packaging

If you’re looking for a sign that the average consumer is now taking sustainable packaging really seriously, then look no further than the annual slew of “Christmas wrapping tips” articles.

Up until relatively recently, the emphasis was all about presentation and decoration without any hint of concern for the vast amounts of excess packaging used in the process.

Over recent years, however, there has been more emphasis on sustainable wrapping and this year the concern is clearly front and centre not just for niche influencers but also for the mainstream media.

Sustainability definitely isn’t just for millennials

The term “millennial” has become somewhat synonymous with concern for environmental and ethical issues. That being so, it’s probably unsurprising that, according to data from Nielson, almost three-quarters of them indicated that they would be willing to pay a price premium for sustainability.

It may also be unsurprising that Generation Z (people aged 15-20) were only slightly behind on 72%. What may, however, comes as something of a surprise is that over half of the “Boomer” generation (people aged 50-64) indicated a willingness to pay extra for sustainable brands.

What does that mean for brands?

This survey (and a whole lot of other supporting data) has two major implications for brands. The first is that customers are increasingly not just wanting or even expecting, but demanding that companies get their act together when it comes to sustainable packaging.

As evidence of this, see all the pushback Amazon has faced when it tried to introduce new packaging which it believed to be more convenient but which consumers believed was much less sustainable than its old packaging (as the new packaging was plastic and the old packaging was cardboard). 

The second is that a substantial number of consumers are willing to pay extra for products which can demonstrate sustainable (meaning environmental and/or ethical) credentials.

This is not a licence to increase prices, but it can be seen as a positive indication that a company does have a decent chance of being able to recoup investment in research and development and/or the purchase of more sustainable materials.

What does that mean for consumers?

We’ve already seen brands make serious efforts to ditch excess packaging and to ensure that any packaging they do use can be reused and/or recycled. There are, however, two areas in which there is particular room for improvement. 

The first is in the huge (and still growing) ecommerce sector, where packaging needs to be used to protect items in transit.

We’re seeing a rise in the use of corrugated packaging where the folds essentially act as shock-absorbers and also a switch from plastic-based products to paper-based counterparts, such as paper bubble-wrap.

The second is the food industry and, in particular, convenience purchases.

Although there is a strong movement towards consumers bringing their own  bottles, cups and utensils (and again, this is expected to grow), it will probably be some time, if ever, before use-once packaging is eliminated, however there are moves to make it more sustainable, such as by switching to compostable or even edible packaging.

Author Bio

Ansini Limited are specialists in vacuum forming and thermoplastic moulding. Their social responsibility to the environment ensures their procedures and products cut waste and reduce the use of energy.

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