Packaging and your sustainability commitment

Customer values

Customers are increasingly looking to build long-term relationships with brands that share their values, so it should be no surprise that transparency and sustainable practices are becoming key consumer concerns. According to McKinsey, as many as 79% of consumers include sustainable packaging in their purchase decisions. In 2021, consumers will not accept greenwashing or tokenism. Brands need to deliver innovative sustainable packaging solutions that consumers can responsibly handle at the end of a product’s life.

Today, brands are expected to deliver aesthetically appealing, but sustainably credible products. According to Deloitte, 76% of CFOs in the tourism and travel industry feel pressure to act on climate change, compared to 64% in consumer goods and 58% in automotive. Although there is an appetite for innovation and sustainable materials, there appears also to be a gap between what brands want to achieve and what they know is available from their suppliers.

In this article we break down the ways in which companies can deliver on their sustainability pledges.

Recent material developments

Material development is bringing more sustainable packaging options to the market. Brands across all sectors are adopting new designs to reduce their impact on the environment and on the sustainability-conscious end-consumer. Aveda recently partnered with Tag to create a PR box made of 100% FSC-recycled paper that reflected the values of their consumers. Garnier has branched into zero plastic waste beauty products that were previously the domain of independent shops. Beverage giant Coca-Cola is on board too, trialing a paper bottle design as part of a long-term bid to eliminate all their plastic packaging.

Environmentally friendly materials include FSC-recycled paper, plant-based plastic or 100% compostable corn starch materials. With rapid innovation underway in the packaging materials sector, brands seeking more sustainable solutions should be working closely with their packaging partners to determine how they can reduce the environmental impact of their packaging while maintaining a high-quality, on-brand and cost-effective model.

Connected packaging is another innovation revolutionizing the industry. Connectivity increases information availability by turning product packaging into interactive information channels using code generation, digital printing and data management. This can unlock new opportunities for consumers to gather more value from packaging than ever before, such as product protection and functionality, supply chain transparency or about the composition and recyclability of the product and packaging itself.

Innovation and affordability

Sustainable packaging is slowly becoming a more economically viable option. With continued development, economies of scale are providing producers with wider material options and making eco-friendly end products more affordable to everyday consumers.

Today, you can usually switch to FSC-certified materials without a cost premium. For temporary usage, under 3 months or so, corrugated board has a low total cost of ownership (TCO), whilst for semi-permanent displays, there are Xanita board, honeycomb and PET materials that have a lower TCO and extended lifecycle. Ideally, we help brands to develop more long-lasting displays from permanent materials like metal and FSC timber that are not discarded at the end of each campaign.

However, whilst encouraging brands and retailers to change their behavior, we still need to work towards making temporary materials more sustainable. Continued investment in R&D and buy-in from large international retailers is required to bring more sustainable options to the wider market.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Mono-materials are taking off as end of life recovery for packaging becomes increasingly important due to their increased recyclability. A growing number of brands are switching to either 100% raw, recycled, or reusable materials that can feed into the circular economy. We have seen a rise in small independent retailers offering packaging-free produce and refill stations, but this model needs to be adapted for the masses.

Plant-based packaging has also come under the spotlight. However, we must be careful to avoid materials that require special conditions to degrade rather than the natural environment as this can still cause problems. We must also evaluate the ecological costs of clearing land to grow crops. Plastic is often considered the main villain of sustainability, but there are a host of other environmental costs that producers must be aware of. We will see a shift in consumer preferences towards the reuse and recycling of existing materials before creating new materials because they are ‘more natural’.

There is currently a gap in the value chain that is restricting sustainability efforts. McKinsey reports that only 16% of all plastic waste globally is recycled into new plastics. The majority is incinerated or sent to landfill. We need to develop and coordinate recycling capabilities and economics if we are to maximize the lifecycle of plastic materials.

Slowly, perceptions of packaging quality versus sustainability are also shifting. In the past, recyclable paper was criticized by designers due to quality control and consistency issues, but we must re-evaluate consumer priorities and the trade-off for a reduced environmental impact.

Point of sale materials

As a designer and producer of point of sale materials (POSM), Tag is also working with its partners to increase material efficiency. Sadly, a large proportion of physical materials created do not end up in-store. Of those that do, they are sometimes not recycled due to final disposal by retailers rather than brands. With this knowledge, we address planning inaccuracies through increased data reporting, for more accurate forecasting. We also look for ways to simplify our designs so that responsible disposal by the retailer is as easy as possible.

Tag has expertise in the design and creation of digital point-of-sale materials. This offers a more engaging, efficient and sustainable alternative to temporary POSM that is discarded after a promotion ends. Brands can update the digital design of the display to reflect new product lines without throwing away the physical materials. Digital displays also allow us to get more creative with our designs to maximize customer engagement and recall.

POPAI has created ‘Sustain’, a tool for measuring the environmental impact of point of sale materials, from design to end of life. Although consumers may only see the final product, brands are responsible for ensuring the sustainability of their entire value chain. Brands that claim their products are eco-friendly must be prepared to back this up with real evidence of end-to-end impact.

Eliminating excess packaging

With eCommerce growing at an astounding rate, we can now optimize packaging for online-only shoppers. The online environment allows brands to take a different approach to packaging. Evian has pledged to becoming a fully circular brand by 2025, and as part of this pledge they have created a label-free bottle. The stripped back packaging removes one of the hurdles to recycling and is complemented by recycled and recyclable plastic. With brands selling their products online, the way that product information is displayed can be transformed.

For brands that are not quite ready to strip it back to this extent, Tag’s end-to-end strategic sourcing and creative production teams can help source more sustainable materials, minimize excess packaging and standardize designs to reduce waste.

If you would like to know more about how we can improve packaging, schedule a call today.