The importance of sustainability in the packaging industry

Sustainable packaging starts with the design and choice of materials. As more consumers are becoming more environmentally-aware of their consumption habits, sustainability in the packaging industry is now a must. Products are increasingly being designed for a circular economy – a system where they are reused or recycled instead of discarded in a landfill – and packaging is taking a similar route.

Brands and packaging companies are pushing for sustainability; it has become a case of join in or fall behind. Environmentally-friendly packaging design is important for the planet and for the consumer. A 2019 survey conducted by IBM, the global tech giant, polled 19 000 consumers from 28 countries. They found that one-third of all consumers would stop buying from their favourite brands if they failed to live up to their sustainability promises.

This creates a loss of trust between the brand and the consumer and it shows that people are now prioritising sustainable, transparent and ethical businesses. The survey also revealed that 70% of shoppers would be willing to pay an extra 35% for goods that are sustainable and eco-friendly. In addition, 57% of participants said that they are willing to change their purchasing habits for the benefit of the environment.

What is sustainable packaging?

Clearly, sustainable packaging is important to the consumer, but what exactly does it entail? There are four basic factors that are required for packaging to be considered sustainable:

  1. The packaging material is sourced sustainably.
  2. The packaging can be recycled, composted, reused or upcycled.
  3. The packaging design is optimised for maintaining product quality.
  4. The cost of production is feasible for long-term use.

A sustainably-sourced material is that which is procured in a manner that is environmentally-friendly, socially-responsible and made from renewable or recycled content. However, the design of the packaging also needs to extend the product’s shelf life and ensure that it remains protected during transport and storage. This is where optimised packaging plays a vital role in ensuring product quality and safety.

Limiting unnecessary and excess packaging is also important for sustainability. This is why minimalistic packaging design has become a trend in recent years. With all of these factors in-mind, packaging companies need to consider the cost of production. Sustainable packaging needs to be affordable and justify its use in the long-term. The cost can make or break an eco-friendly packaging idea.

How to make your product more appealing through packaging

Luxury packaging design can be eco-friendly

Most premium brands want aesthetic packaging that reflects their values and the quality of their products. Usually, this means using heavier materials such as wood, metal or glass. All of these materials can be sustainably sourced, recycled and reused. Sustainability does not have to impact the aesthetic value of packaging, especially when it is done in a creative, thoughtful and classy way.

Luxury packaging often requires embellishments and multiple layers of ink, varnish, foils and other coatings. However, it is the perception of the packaging that is important for premium brands. As long as the packaging portrays quality, exclusivity and class, sustainable materials can be used in the design and manufacture of luxury goods.

Many consumers are shifting how they see luxury products. In 2019, management consultancy Bain & Company published its Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study. This report revealed seven trends of the luxury goods industry that will take effect over the next five years. The report showed that luxury goods consumers are getting younger – 47% of these consumers were born between 1985 and 2005.

The younger generations are more aware of their environmental impact and are more willing to buy from sustainable brands. Luxury brands are adapting to the needs of younger consumers and starting to take a more sustainable approach to product manufacturing and packaging. Premium brands are starting to reduce their volume of packaging and opt for sustainable materials without having to sacrifice visual appeal and quality.

Brands are pushing for sustainability too

It is not only consumers that are demanding sustainable products and packaging. A 2018 article published by the Stanford Social Innovation Review reported that 90% of chief executive offers (CEOs) believe that sustainability is important for their company’s success. There is a mass drive to create sustainability strategies and eco-friendly products in most industries. 

New job titles, such as ‘chief sustainability officer’, have emerged over the past decade and businesses are now publishing regular sustainability reports for investors and stakeholders. Environmental issues are now a major focus of business schools around the world and brands are signing commitments to environmentally-friendly business practices and waste recycling strategies.

Many business decision-makers don’t hesitate when it comes to new product development and packaging. Sustainability is now the first solution that comes to mind when creating new products. Plastic-free packaging and the use of natural, recyclable materials are often the go-to choices for CEOs and business leaders.

Design is the start of sustainable packaging

Packaging designers have a vital role to play when it comes to sustainable packaging. The choice of materials is key to the recyclability or reuse of the packaging. When sustainability is considered from the conception of a product, it becomes central to the rest of the process. It should be ingrained in product and packaging design, rather than an afterthought. Recyclability, compostability, biodegradability and reuse should be goals during the design phase – this will set up the rest of the circular economy and enable its success.

Packaging often has many design elements that need to work together in order to meet the needs of the brand and its environmental goals. If sustainability is not considered from the outset, it is difficult to backtrack and implement eco-friendly materials and solutions after a product or the packaging has been designed.

A major part of sustainable design is on-pack labelling and instructions for disposal. The packaging needs to be clearly labelled so that the consumer knows which recycling bin to place it into, or how to use it for composting purposes. These labels can also suggest ways to reuse or upcycle the packaging material.

Sustainability is unavoidable for brands and packaging companies, including luxury goods. Environmental issues and excess waste are important topics in modern society where consumers can make or break businesses that do not live up to their expectations. Sustainability does not have to be expensive or difficult to implement. Packaging and products can be eco-friendly and still look great on shelves.


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Written by Joshua Oates

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