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Insights: Articles & Resources by Oliver Inc.


Sustainable Packaging: Innovative Board Options

Innovative board options, such as tree-free substrates made from sugarcane bagasse and post-consumer paperboard created from recycled materials, have redefined what it means to have sustainable packaging.

    5 minute read

Sustainability has long been a hot-button topic across industries, but recently some of the biggest consumer brands in the world have stepped up their game. Coca-Cola has committed to making 100% of its packaging recyclable by 2025. L'Oréal has pledged that its plastic packaging will be “refillable, rechargeable, recyclable or compostable” by the same year. 

They are just two in a long list of companies who both recognize their responsibility to implement environmentally friendly practices and understand the importance of appealing to ethically driven consumers. 

In fact, consumer behavior plays a large role in influencing this movement. One study found that 67% of consumers now identify as environmentally aware, and 53% actively look for recycling or sustainability information on packaging. 

It’s no longer a question of if you should consider shifting to more sustainable packaging, but how? Just as consumer goods companies seek plastic alternatives, there’s a need to develop new pulp sources to avoid overburdening well-managed forests. Innovative companies are increasingly using recycled content and alternative feedstocks like hemp and bagasse to produce high-quality sustainable paper and paperboard.

Tree-free substrates and post-consumer paperboards open greater possibilities for eco-friendly packaging and printed collateral. Here’s what you need to know about these materials.


Tree-Free Substrates

A true breakthrough in eco-friendly packaging came from a company that turned ‘waste’ into a reliable paperboard alternative. Emerald Brand’s Tree-Free packaging is made from bagasse, a byproduct of sugarcane. This is a highly renewable resource that was once discarded by farmers. Now, the tree-free packaging option can be used effectively for safe food packaging, folding cartons, marketing collateral, and more. It features the following qualities: 

  • 100% Compostable & Biodegradable
  • Free of BPA, Chlorine, Petroleum & Dyes
  • USDA Bio-Preferred
  • Customizable

Although it has limited coating options, the natural appearance of the tree-free substrate can fit in with your brand’s overall commitment to sustainability. Consider the success of Lauren Conrad Beauty. After considering multiple eco-friendly options, the company chose to go with the tree-free paperboard made from sugarcane bagasse. 



The folding cartons have a touch of elegance to go with a natural, organic look. That appeals to customers eager to get in on the clean beauty trend, and reinforces brand loyalty for consumers who are well aware of the company’s commitment to creating “beautiful products that are clean, environmentally-friendly, ethically-sourced, and vegan.” 


Post-Consumer Paperboard

There are challenges associated with producing packaging from these alternative materials. Take, for instance, the tree-free substrate. As effective as the material is, it’s still limited on the creative front. As of now, a substrate that features a white coating on one side is the only option that doesn’t retain the natural look. 

This doesn’t necessarily dissuade brands who combine the appearance with eco-friendly messaging (look no further than the Lauren Conrad example). However, if you’re seeking an alternative to a standard paperboard while including vibrant colors and other decorative elements, then post-consumer recycled paperboard might be right for you. 

Clearwater Paper ReMagine premium paperboard contains up to 30% recycled fiber. The company likes to say it matches the performance of SBS, with a sustainable edge. This paperboard is optimized for print quality and customization, not to mention it’s FDA-compliant for food contact. 

It’s ideal for folding cartons, marketing collateral, greeting cards, and even point-of-sale displays. You can let your imagination take over while still highlighting sustainable messaging. For example, brands often include a prominent note about the recycled materials on their boxes and cartons. It lets customers immediately know that the product has an eco-friendly component. 

How Oliver Delivers Sustainable Packaging Solutions

The best sustainable packaging decision you can make is working with a partner who values sustainability as a whole. That might seem obvious, but the reality is that sustainability is tied into so many things, from the materials sourced, to the efficiency of processes, to limiting waste, to the behavior of consumers and vendors along the chain of custody.  

Oliver takes it all into account, which is why so many companies turn to us for their sustainable packaging needs. Oliver has invested in green energy and earned chain-of-custody certifications from the nonprofits Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Sustainable Forest Initiative (SFI), and Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). We also offer vegetable-oil-based inks and water-based coatings, in addition to the aforementioned tree-free and post-consumer recycled paperboard options. 

Most importantly, Oliver understands that no two projects are the same. Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all solution, our experts work to understand your sustainable packaging goals and help you meet them. That means providing the right substrates, be they tree-free options or paperboard from a responsibly managed forest. It means designing a structure that reduces material and maximizes reuse or recyclability without sacrificing protection. It means providing digital proofs and 3D visualizations to limit paper use. 

Whatever the project, trust that when you choose to work with Oliver, you go green in more ways than one. 

Interested in learning more about sustainable packaging?

Oliver recently hosted The Sustainability Imperative: Folding Carton Packaging for a Greener Future. Fill out the form below to gain access to a recording of the webinar as well as accompanying resources. 

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