Companies across industries—from food and beverage, to beauty, and beyond—are shifting toward sustainability, with many aspects of the environmental movement finding their way into packaging: reducing materials, limiting plastic, and promoting other green initiatives.
Packaging is often the first tangible connection between a product and the consumer, and as such, it makes a strong impression. Therefore, implementing sustainable packaging isn’t only about being environmentally responsible. It can also help distinguish your brand from others by appealing to the ever-growing number of eco-friendly consumers.
What Is Sustainable Packaging?
Put simply, sustainable packaging utilizes materials with minimal environmental impact—from production to post-use. It considers not only what happens to those components once opened and discarded, but the energy expended in creating them. Sustainable packaging makes it easier for people to recover, reuse, and recycle the coverings and wrappings protecting their favorite products.
Depending on your company’s goals, sustainability entails incorporating more biodegradable materials, and cutting down or even eliminating plastics and other wasteful elements—such as reducing the amount of timber needed to supply your paper and cardboard packaging, for example.
There are multiple significant advantages of sustainable packaging.
Implements Right-Size Packaging
Consumers have a pretty good sense for when a product doesn’t sit right in its carton, or if the amount of packaging is excessive. It doesn’t reflect well on a brand, especially for environmentally conscious customers. Minimizing the amount of packaging materials used is one way to be more sustainable, and also results in fewer storage and printing costs. It may take a bit of experimentation and research to determine the right-size packaging, but it’s worth the savings on each product shipped.
Notably, in 2015, retail shippers changed policies to charge by the dimension or weight of packages. This put the responsibility on companies to rethink their packaging. With added space in their cartons and boxes, they were, essentially, paying higher rates to ship air along with their products.
Even if changing your entire packaging to more sustainable options is not presently feasible for your company, enlisting lighter-weight materials is a sustainability best practice. Less weight reduces transportation costs. Just be certain your choices provide sufficient protection and remain durable enough to handle shipment and storage.
Limits Your Carbon Footprint
Human-caused climate change should be a chief concern for any business, especially if you’re an organization looking to make a positive social impact. That means paying attention to how much you contribute to greenhouse gasses.
Carbon emissions can occur at any point in the production or packaging process. So not only do you want to minimize the use of petroleum-based products, but you’ll need to reconsider the energy sources producing your packaging materials and how you ship your products.
Consumption of paper-based products also encourages reforestation and incentivizes landowners to keep their properties forested, presuming they are sustainably managed. Trees naturally store carbon, reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. To ensure products are sustainably produced, look for certifications by the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), or Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).
Reduces the Amount of Plastic in the World
While many plastics are recyclable, there’s still a startling amount that ends up in landfills or our oceans. Using post-consumer plastics prevents further contributing to pollution, and nudges others toward being more eco-conscious as well. Plus, it’s less expensive than virgin plastics, per a 2017 article from the BBC.
Using alternatives such as paperboard or sugarcane board for your packaging materials assures customers that what protects your products also comes from a renewable resource. It also costs more to dispose of less environmentally conscious materials.
Sustainable Alternatives Have Few Allergens & Toxins
A 2015 review in Current Environmental Health Reports suggests a connection between chemicals used in plastic packaging and allergic reactions in humans, specifically from bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. Alternatively, biodegradable materials tend to be non-toxic and free of other harmful chemicals.
Avoiding potentially unsafe ingredients in your packaging means one less thing to keep your C-suite awake at night. Eco-friendly components also reassure consumers increasingly concerned about the impacts of petroleum-based products —including microplastics in our food—that you genuinely care about their health and safety.
Builds Brand Affinity With Eco-friendly Consumers
Your commitment to sustainability stands out to consumers and clients. A 2020 article in Environment + Energy Leader indicates 75% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging.
People identify with brands that reflect their values and shy away from those that don’t. Not only do people view this as a matter of personal integrity, but they want their consumer purchases to inspire their friends and family to make changes as well.
It can be difficult for people to find an affordable product that doesn’t have a negative effect on the environment. Your company’s adoption of more sustainable packaging helps make consumers’ choices easier.
Going green with your packaging materials shrinks your carbon footprint, reduces the amount of plastics in the world, improves your revenue streams, and establishes your brand as a forward-looking company capable of bringing about real, positive change in your respective markets, and in the world.