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Thinking Eco: Brands Should Embrace Circular Design and Sustainable Packaging

June, 2019

With more than 70% of purchase decisions being made in store, packaging that catches the eye is the last appeal brands make to consumers. For today’s consumer however, being eye-catching is no longer enough. While perusing the goods in the local supermarket, many potential customers are asking questions about a brand’s sustainability efforts.

With rising concerns surrounding climate change, the desire for environmentally conscious brands is increasing. Younger shoppers especially seek out brands that align with their eco-friendly mindset, and are careful not to spend their dollars with brands that are seen causing harm to Mother Earth or are greenwashing. By developing and implementing sustainable packaging, brands can start building loyalty with Gen Z and Millennials while also reducing their ecological footprint.

Desire for Sustainable Packaging

Sustainable packaging is nothing new; the term has been floating around the industry for the better part of two decades. But consumers are looking at brands to become sustainable at every stage of the packaging process.

These new demands present a host of problems for brands looking to change. Consider the weight of a glass bottle and a plastic bottle. While on the surface glass bottles are the more sustainable option due to reusability, when factoring in the weight of the material, the increase in fuel costs actually ends up being more damaging to the environment than plastic.

Despite these challenges, it is apparent that the need and demand for sustainable packaging is not going anywhere. Brands stand to benefit from going sustainable, with almost 75% of Millennials willing to pay more for sustainability. Paired with compelling package design, it may prove to be the best way for brands to stand out.

Embracing Circular Design

For brands looking to become more sustainable, circular design offers a solution. Part of the circular economy, a concept that has dated back to the 1970s, circular design aims to design the problems of a linear economy (take-make-waste) into extinction through reducing the amount of waste reduced while increasing the utility of used resources. Think not just eliminating single use plastics like fast food straws, but developing a reusable straw from a sustainable material with minimal environmental impact.

Many of the ideas taken from circular design are being implemented in the fashion industry. Nike is one brand that is looking to promote sustainability for brands. Their circular design guide made the rounds in early summer 2019, and focuses on the concept’s implications in the world of apparel.

Smart material choices are a key tenet in circular design, and already there are many CPGs that are working to improve sustainability on that front. Diageo is committing to 100% reusable or recyclable packaging by 2020 and Danone have challenged themselves to ditch paper-based packaging that comes from unsustainable sources by 2020 as well.

Precompetitive Collaborations Breeds Creativity

When developing strategies to become sustainable, brand decision makers should consider collaborating. By welcoming being precompetitive, brands stand to gain insights on sustainable packaging from all over the industry. CPGs such as Coty and Ab InBev are members of a prominent circular economy group, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE 100 Network.

These efforts lead to creative sustainable solutions that can revolutionize the world of packaging. Loop, a shopping platform announced early 2019, is reviving the ‘milkman’ model of reusable packaging, and has enlisted the help of brands such as Häagen-Dazs for its sustainable refrigeration technology. Projects and platforms like this take off through brands working together towards a common goal.

Rising to meet the challenges of converting to sustainable packaging requires a level of creativity and investment that may be difficult for some brands at the start. Many packaging decisions are out of the hands of brand managers. Even so, becoming more sustainable on the packaging front will not only have a positive long term impact on the bottom line, but arguably more importantly, it will have a lasting impact on the environment that we share.


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Last Edited on May 25, 2018