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Sustainable Packaging—A Value Proposition

By: Jeff Falk
Posted: February 27, 2009, from the March 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

Packaging has always been something akin to a uniform. Both can be invaluable for quick identification, express something about the wearer and communicate a position. For brands, it translates to standing apart on a crowded shelf, imparting a brand message and aligning to a segment. And though this fundamentally remains true, there has been a clear change in the materials and insignias of these uniforms—with substance sharing equal billing with style, but without a negative impact on most brand goals. It’s a cause and effect story that has rounded back upon itself in some ways.

At one time, products positioned as natural were not packaged all that differently than those not in the segment. But, as more and better materials became available, natural and organic products adopted packaging appropriate to the positioning and brand story: Emphasizing the natural message, and appealing to consumers who embraced environmental and well-being causes and lifestyles. The underlying consumer interest in these issues had implications beyond the product itself, and in an interesting turn, products and brands across industries making no claim to the natural segment began adopting postconsumer and other waste materials deemed more eco-conscious. Brands found that packaging fitting this criteria had broader appeal to a wider consumer base, and at the same time, it is also a competitive proposition as more natural and organic products can be found on shelves at mass retailers and are drawing the attention of a growing number of consumers.

“Consumers seem to be more interested in greener packaging and products then they were in the past,” says Monica Olsen, founder of Skin by Monica Olsen, headquartered in Castaic, California. “More people are purchasing organic food and more natural cosmetics and/or skin care. Many feel that by purchasing organic and/or natural products, they are doing their part for the environment and are caring for themselves better.”

Improved materials and processes to obtain these materials allowed a sustainable message, not necessarily natural, expressed through the packaging to become a selling point that could be applied agnostically. For brands and manufacturers, it is a profitable business model that holds to principles concerned with stewardship of the environment. Resources are used more productively and efficiently, waste is eliminated and sustainable profits result, and the secondary rewards include consumer retention. As noted in “Retail’s Natural (R)evolution” in this issue, Aveda found that 68% of consumers will remain loyal to a company that has a social and environmental commitment. And it’s a move that, when done right, doesn’t negatively impact positioning or the overall brand aesthetic.

“When Estée Lauder started using postconsumer waste for its Origins brand [for which Curtis began receiving awards in 2005], the industry became aware of the possibilities with these materials, but it didn’t know how to access them,” says Don Droppo Jr., senior vice president of sales and marketing for Curtis Packaging in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. “That’s when an education push about sustainable packaging began. There was now this awareness that, ‘Wow, there are some sustainable packaging solutions out there that look really good.’”