Packaging material contributes significantly to the world’s trash problem. Plastic bags, plastic wrappings, plastic containers, styrofoam sheets, styrofoam packing peanuts, and plastic bubble wrap—some of these materials will take more than 400 years to biodegrade and will contaminate and litter our landscapes, waterways, and oceans in the meantime.
Even in a pandemic, consumers expect businesses to stick with sustainability pledges and do more for the environment (full research available to clients).
One way digital businesses can do this is by committing itself to green packaging.
Green packaging refers to the use of materials to wrap, pack, and ship products that are reusable, biodegradable, or compostable. It can also refer to recycling and manufacturing techniques that minimize pollution.
Sustainable packaging also plays a key role in the burgeoning circular economy. In the traditional linear economy, products are made, used, and then discarded, contributing to the world’s trash problem. In a circular economy, resources are kept in use for longer through recycling, as well as the harvesting, reusing, and refurbishing of parts (full research available to clients).
According to Gartner, 51% of supply chain professionals expect the circular economy to expand in popularity in the next two years, as a result of the pandemic, consumer expectations, and a need for greater supply chain resiliency*.
Green packaging and the circular economy is the future.
More people are opting for shopping online: 60% of consumers say they’ve done more shopping online since the pandemic started**. While buying online might be better for the environment in some ways, it can be especially harmful in other ways, such as contributing waste from packaging materials and shipping.
And people care—37% of U.S. consumers prioritize sustainability when making buying decisions (full research available to full time clients).
Businesses across industries are adopting greener packaging by choosing sustainable packaging material that is recyclable, reusable, and biodegradable to not only reduce their environmental impact but to also build consumer trust. Here’s how you can do the same.
Sustainability is important to customers, but they want businesses to approach sustainability authentically and holistically. “Greenwashing” is when companies deceive customers into thinking they are committed to environmentally-friendly business practices when they are not.
No one likes a greenwasher and being one can lead to distrust in your brand and result in a loss of customer loyalty.
Companies that opt for green packaging should consider all aspects of their packaging (full research available to clients):
How the product itself is wrapped
The outer packaging containing the wrapped product
The container the product is shipped in (e.g., cardboard box, mailer envelope, etc.)
How the materials are sourced
Only focusing on one of these aspects of packaging might send a message of “greenwashing” if you’ve informed your customers that you’re committed to going green.
BATCH by Wisconsin Hemp Scientific launched in April 2020, and digital marketer Brett Gluth says the company was founded on principles of sustainability to meet customer expectations.
“From the start, we knew [sustainability] would be key to our long-term growth and was something that could not be faked,” Gluth said.
BATCH takes a holistic approach to green packaging. The materials they use are both recycled and recyclable, but for them, it goes beyond the actual materials.
“The thing a lot of companies miss, in our opinion, is the sourcing of your packaging,” Gluth said. “We have opted to work with local packaging companies to avoid contributing to the massive pollution that comes with purchasing packaging [abroad].”
By working with companies also located in Wisconsin, the materials have a shorter journey and require less energy to get to BATCH’s facility.
Consider all aspects of packaging and how they can be more sustainable. Source new materials locally if possible.
Communicate with customers your plans. For example, if you plan to make all packaging more eco-friendly at the same time or if you plan to do so incrementally, let your customers know. Customers appreciate transparency and understand a long-term commitment to the environment might take time.
Supply chain management software can help you plan where your materials are coming from, manage inventory, and allow greater transparency.
There isn’t a perfect green packaging solution: Every option has its drawbacks, which makes weighing all of your sustainable packaging options even more important.
Natalie Lennick, founder of Green Ablutions, says that a lot of “green” packaging can potentially be misleading or just marketing hype, especially when it comes to plastic packaging.
“Plastic degrades during the recycling process thereby producing an inferior material with low resale value and limited applications,” Lennick said. “There are seven types of plastic that can technically be recycled but many collection centers will only process some of them.”
Compostable plastics present similar challenges as some compostable plastics can only be dealt with at special facilities.
While plastic products will be familiar to consumers, even those that are recyclable and compostable may still end up in the landfill.
“Paper, glass, and aluminum are infinitely more recyclable than plastic,” Lennick said.
Caroline Zelder, CEO of Air Force One Z, an antimicrobial outerwear company, wanted to make sure her biodegradable packaging’s end-of-life management was easy and feasible for consumers. Because some compostable products require special facilities to process, she opted for materials that can break down in home composts in 180 days.
“We did a lot of research on different companies and purchased a lot of different samples before we finally chose to buy our compostable mailers and labels,” Zelder said.
Eugenia Lebedynska, chief product officer (CPO) of McDonald Paper and Restaurant Supplies, urges businesses to shop around and look into local suppliers. When shopping around for green packaging solutions, consider all of your options including recyclable plastics, compostable plastics, sugarcane products, glass, and paper.
Consider what the packaging company does to show its commitment to the environment such as replanting trees and collaborating with local recyclers.
Consider all of your green packaging options and how manageable the consumer’s next steps are.
If the product should be recycled, include information on how the consumer can recycle the packaging properly. If the product is compostable, include information on how the consumer can compost it effectively. If the packaging is reusable, let the consumer know how they can reuse it.
Collect customer feedback on your green packaging and make adjustments when possible to meet their expectations. If your green packaging is not easy to recycle, compost, or reuse, it’s not the right solution.
Sustainability doesn’t have to come at the cost of aesthetics, and your packaging should be part of the product.
BATCH, for example, takes its packaging very seriously and recently won an award for their unique packaging design.
The shape of its boxes mimic the company’s logo: a sharp, edgy “B”. These boxes are made from recycled hemp paper, an appropriate material for a company that sells CBD products that are also derived from hemp.
“We don't really have a storefront for people to check us out, so essentially the unboxing experience is our brand,” Gluth said. “It's a great way to differentiate ourselves from competitors and that is hard to place a dollar value on.”
But if they were to put a dollar value on it, green packaging can cost more than traditional packaging. For BATCH, their current eco-friendly packaging costs around $3 per box. If they went with non-recycled paper and overseas sourcing, the cost of the box would be around $1.72 per box.
“We are very fortunate to be selling a high-margin product and be vertically integrated and therefore are able to take on the nearly doubled cost of the packaging,” Gluth said. “We have gotten so much positive feedback about the box that we think it outweighs the higher cost.”
Linnick also thinks the benefits of green packaging outweighs the cost. A standard mailer made from non-recycled plastic might cost her company $0.30 each, while a mailer made from recycled paper might cost $0.52.
“[The non-recyclable mailer] will survive 400+ years in a landfill before ever breaking down,” Linnick said. “For us, the added price is worth knowing we aren’t contributing to plastic pollution.”
While green packaging might cost more, it’s worth the investment: 30% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for products that deliver on sustainability claims.
When weighing your options, consider how much more your consumers would be willing to pay and how much your company can afford to spend on packaging.
Make your packaging an extension of your brand and choose materials that make the most sense for your brand.
Consider the costs of green packaging and find the right balance between sustainability and price.
Use environmental software to manage your sustainability efforts and make sure you remain compliant with industry standards.
By adopting eco-friendly packaging, you show customers you care about the environment and are committed to reducing your environmental impact. Customers will notice: 31% of shoppers say they check for sustainable packaging (full research available to clients).
By taking a holistic approach to green packaging and remaining transparent with your customers about your progress and changes, you can build trust in your brand, turn one-time customers into returning ones, and do your part in protecting the planet.
Whether you’ve been green for a while are just starting to become more green-minded, software can help you every step of the way.
*2020 Gartner’s Opportunity After Crisis Survey. In May and June 2020, Gartner Supply Chain Research sent invitations to complete an online survey to Gartner clients, community members and to a wider group of practitioners in supply chain, and other functions globally. We received 528 completed responses during the survey period for this survey. Fifty-four percent of participants were at VP and/or director level or above. We had participants across industries and that mostly worked in supply-chain-related functions, e.g., supply chain (36%), logistics and/or transportation and distribution (10%), purchasing and/or procurement (9%), and operations (7%). Thirty-seven percent of respondents were from North and South America, 44% from EMEA, and others were from Asia and Australia, or the rest of the world. Fifty-five percent of the participants were from $10-billion-plus companies.
**GetApp’s COVID-19 Consumer & Employee Impact Survey. To gather the information reported in this article, we surveyed 564 respondents within the U.S. We used screening questions to narrow respondents down to those with relevant histories and experiences, and we worded the questions to ensure their meaning was understood.