Your Business’s packaging matters. What your packaging is made of matters, too.
Packaging is the first thing your customers see and it can tell them a lot about the product inside. With the conscious consumer pushing for brands to take on social and environmental responsibilities, sustainable packaging design is an innovative solution for the way of the future.
Consumers are driving eco-friendly change in the way they shop as they become more aware of waste polluting our oceans and landfills. Using environmentally friendly packaging showcases that your brand actively supports sustainability and reduces your environmental impact. If you want to be competitive in your market, your brand will need to do more than just talk-the-talk. Eco-friendly packaging tells consumers that your brand means business.
Packaging Waste Is a Big Problem
Packaging waste poses a huge problem for global sustainability efforts. Ecommerce is a growing industry that saw a spike in 2020 and is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Major shipping companies like FedEx, deliver millions of packages per day, but what happens to those packages after they are delivered? Unfortunately, most end up in landfills where it can take years to break down.
Single-use plastic packaging with linear life cycles fill our landfills and pollute the oceans. Switching to recycled content and reusable packaging not only sets your brand apart from the competition, but it takes tangible action towards a greener future.
What is Packaging Sustainability and Sustainable Design?
Sustainable packaging design is created with the environment in mind, meaning that the packaging should be eco-friendly, recyclable, biodegradable, compostable, and/or reusable. Sustainable packaging material is designed to reduce environmental impacts by using raw or recycled material.
But there’s more to it than just the materials used. Packaging sustainability also encompasses a package’s entire life cycle, including the production process. By streamlining the production process, packaging manufacturers can minimize their carbon footprint and increase their sustainability efforts. Sustainably designed packaging uses less energy and produces less packaging waste throughout the process.
Additionally, creative packaging designs allow for multiple uses which increases a material’s life span and keeps it out of landfills for longer. Like the French honey company, Bee Bright, whose packaging - made of beeswax - doubles as a candle.
Social and economic impacts are also important when switching to sustainable packaging. Your packaging should be sustainable and still be competitively priced next to traditional, oil-based packaging. To achieve this, experiment with ways you can reduce costs in your supply chain. Factor in a growing customer base who is willing to pay more for sustainable packaging and it will be clear why a sustainable model is the smarter business choice.
The social impacts of sustainable packaging are essential factors to consider as well. With advancements in technology in the sustainable e-commerce sector, issues are being raised regarding harvesting organic materials used in sustainable packaging. Part of your business’s sustainable packaging transition should include research into how the organic and raw material you use is sourced. A helpful resource to determine your packaging’s environmental impact is the Sustainable Packaging Coalition which provides information on how brands are classified as sustainable.
Sustainable packaging does not start and stop with the type of box or mailer you use. To be truly sustainable in your packaging, each step of your product packaging system should be streamlined to maximize sustainability and minimize cost. Group O’s on-site SMART Audit program identifies inefficiencies in the packaging process and can help you save money and reduce waste.
Tips on Designing Environmentally Sustainable Packaging
When deciding which sustainable packing is right for your brand, remember that your product comes first. The number one job of your packaging is to protect your product during shipping. Make sure that the materials used are sturdy enough to withstand a bumpy ride. If your packaging is sustainable but does not protect your product, it could create more waste as damaged consumer goods contribute to landfills and create more pollution.
Before jumping into a new sustainable design for your packaging, think about what it is you are selling and how your package design can complement your brand. The design should not distract from the product. Experiment with the amount of material you need for packaging. Can you do it with less? Does your product fit in a smaller box? Does your product even need a box or will a mailer suffice?
Once you’ve decided on a sustainable method for packaging, confirm that the material you use is recyclable, reusable, or made sustainably. If you are using biodegradable materials like bio-based plastic, ensure that the raw material was harvested sustainably. The Forest Stewardship Council is a great resource for verifying how materials are sourced responsibly.
Additionally, consider the end-of-life cycle for your packaging. Know how to dispose of the packaging properly. Are they recyclable materials? Should the materials be composted? What about reusability? Will it serve another function for the consumer? Make sure your consumers are aware of your package’s possibilities to ensure a sustainable outcome once it leaves your warehouse.
This also includes how to dispose of packaging materials like tape and protective fillers. It’s a good idea to make the process uniform so that the entire package can be disposed of in the same way.
Group O’s 360° assessment will help determine design opportunities to minimize cost and maximize sustainability.
Besides the actual packaging materials, think about the ink you use on each package. Some inks, like petroleum or plastic-based inks, are not sustainable. An eco-friendly alternative is soy-based ink and which can break down naturally along with your packaging materials.
Advantages of Sustainable Packaging
Eco-friendly packaging reduces waste and pollution in oceans and landfills and produces a smaller carbon footprint, creating a more positive environmental impact. There are two key advantages to embracing sustainable packaging. First, consumers are pushing for more sustainability in their brands. As Gen Z enters the workforce and becomes a top consumer, and as millennials continue to push for eco-friendly products and packages, sustainable measures will need to increase. These younger consumers are more likely to make purchases based on environmental impacts and will be looking for brands that reflect those interests.
Consumption habits are shifting to reflect a more sustainable future. Consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products or are actively switching to brands that take sustainable actions in their products. If your brand fails to rise up to the demand, you may risk losing your customer base and falling behind competitors. Switch to sustainable packaging, however, and see a rise in customers and customer loyalty as shoppers continue to gravitate towards your brand in the future.
Pivoting to sustainable packaging will save your brand money in the long run. Implementing sustainability initiatives often means eliminating the use of unnecessary packaging material. Shipping costs will be reduced as the packages will weigh less and take up less space. Your brand will use fewer resources to package products which could mean a reduction in waste, energy, and emissions.
Sustainability and efficiency often go hand in hand. An efficient packaging solution allows your brand to ship more packages in less time, saving you money. Optimizing your packaging process through our SMART Audit also cuts out previous inefficiencies throughout the entire packaging process. Using less material to package products creates more room to grow. The lower shipping costs due to lighter packaging also saves money. Shaving off a few dollars here and there really adds up when it comes to shipping costs. You have the power to save yourself and your customer's money when you switch to a sustainable packaging solution.
Sustainable Packaging Solutions
Ready to start implementing sustainable packaging in your business? Not so fast! Before jumping headfirst into sustainable packaging materials, take a moment to assess your needs and goals. Is there a specific area of sustainability that your brand wants to focus on? (i.e. habitat rehabilitation, combating deforestation, ocean preservation). The answer could be based on personal opinion, general consensus, or based on your product. For example, if your brand specializes in outdoor gear, you may want to focus your sustainability efforts on deforestation. In that case, select materials that are sustainably sourced, organic, or recycled paper packaging products (i.e. brown cardboard or compostable mailers).
Work with suppliers to optimize the packaging process and see how you can support environmentally friendly practices with them. Partner with manufacturers that also champion sustainability so that sustainable practices are utilized throughout a product's entire process. Remember, sustainable packaging encompasses a package’s entire life-cycle.
Educate your customer base on how to properly dispose of their packaging. Can they compost or plant their packaging? Is it recyclable packaging? (Recycling guidelines vary from city to city but including recycling best practices is a helpful resource for consumers). Can the package be reused or does it serve another function? How your package is disposed of is important information to include because your sustainability efforts won’t matter if a package is improperly discarded.
Using smaller packages to ship your product lowers cost and decreases the package’s carbon footprint. Value engineering is the process of redesigning a system to save money. In this case, that often means using less material to achieve the same outcome. Experiment with what you have already and see if there is a way to package products more efficiently, using fewer filler materials or using organic/bio-based fillers. Cut out how much empty space is in a package by simplifying designs. Get creative!
Finally, avoid excess packaging by optimizing the entire process. Often a package will be unnecessarily wrapped or boxed multiple times creating more waste as it moves through the packaging process. Streamlining the process reduces unnecessary waste and speeds up the packaging process as a whole.
Eco-Friendly Packaging Materials
Sustainable packaging is necessary if you want to keep up with the competition. But what are your options for eco-friendly packaging materials? Advancements in sustainability and technology are creating a wide variety of biodegradable packaging materials that serve different purposes depending on your product. Strategize your needs first, and experiment by ordering samples to ensure the sustainable materials you choose are right for your brand and product.
A popular eco-friendly packaging material is plant-based and fully compostable. Also called bio-based or corn plastics, plant-based materials are a more sustainable alternative to traditional petroleum-based materials (i.e plastic). These materials biodegrade and feedback into the soil, creating a cyclical life cycle and can be responsibly sourced again and again. They can decompose in just about any environment too (commercial or residential).
Another bio-based option is algae which is a single-use plastic that decomposes. Single-use plastic is not necessarily a bad thing. The harm comes from what the plastic is made from. If it is petroleum-based that means it won’t break down in our lifetime and is, therefore, an unsustainable option. Algae offers a sustainable alternative to typical single-use plastic because of its compostable nature.
Mushroom-based material offers the same sustainable benefits while providing strength and durability. It can be naturally broken down in soil but will also keep heavier or fragile products safe during transit.
The classic material people often think of when referring to recycled or reusable materials is cardboard. And it’s a classic for a reason: it is durable but also can be broken down if it is unbleached. Besides that, cardboard is made from recycled materials and, if sourced responsibly, is a great option for your brand’s sustainable packaging.
Ultimately, the materials you choose for your packaging depends on what you're selling. If your product is heavy, select a durable option like mushroom fiber-based packaging or brown cardboard. For food packaging, try using plant or food-based materials to package it. Just make sure the packaging itself does not interfere with the product inside.
Let Group O Help Your Brand Become More Sustainable
Consider a material that amplifies your brand’s mission. A concise message alongside your sustainable packaging goes a long way! How can your brand embrace sustainable packaging? Group O is an expert in packaging solutions. We can help you make the switch to a more sustainable future. Call our packaging experts today! 866-476-8761