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The Right Message: Translating Sustainable Packaging to Consumers

By: Beth Scherer
Posted: October 26, 2012, from the November 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

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So, how do beauty brands balance marketing and sustainability objectives? It completely depends on your brand, your consumers and your marketing objectives. Certifications and their associated logos remain one of the easiest and potentially most effective means of communication, provided you have the real estate necessary to use them effectively.

For example, Seventh Generation is partnering with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition on its How2Recycle label project to effectively communicate about packaging end of life using a standardized label. The new label provides a common set of icons to ensure consumers receive consistent recycling information across products and municipal recycling programs. This will go a long way to alleviating customer confusion—and ultimately getting more products recycled. Plus consumers respond well to products that they know are recyclable. The Perception Research Group’s 2012 study found packaging labeled as “recyclable” or as “made with recycled materials” fared better than packaging that touted a reduction in materials.

The drawbacks to these types of labeling programs can include high costs and stringent rules surrounding the use of trademarked symbols, including specific sizing and even color requirements. That leads to another option—text statements. These statement can be simple and effective, even though they may be less noticeable than an image. And often, when space is especially tight, communication about sustainability is left off cartons altogether and instead companywide sustainable packaging goals are promoted through channels like company websites and social media platforms instead.

Marc Castiglione, packaging operations manager for Perricone MD, explains, “As a manufacturer and retailer of high-end skin care products, Perricone MD is aware of how much product packaging has an impact on the environment. We sell a high-end skin care product that appeals to a certain demographic of customers, which we believe are well-educated and knowledgeable about environmental issues. In an effort to communicate with them effectively, we place easily identifiable logos in the same spot on each package, separate from marketing/product messages. This makes the information easy for customers to find and understand and assures them of its authenticity.

He continues, “However, space on our packaging is a premium. There are certain requirements, along with our marketing initiatives, that need to be met, and unfortunately if there is not enough space, we sometimes choose to take environmental messaging off the packaging entirely.”

Sustaining Sustainability

Despite these challenges, however, the importance of sustainable packaging is only increasingly its significance and consumer awareness.

Derrick Lawrence, senior packaging engineer for Seventh Generation, sums it up, saying, “Seventh Generation is a pioneer in providing home care products that are healthy solutions for people within their homes, for the community, and environment. Our packaging needs to reflect the company’s commitment to our vision of inspiring a revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations.”

Looking to Seventh Generation’s own initiatives in the beauty realm, Lawrence comments, “With the launch of our personal care lines, we were able to apply much of our household product knowledge. The color and quality of PCR materials has been a challenge in the past, but supply of good quality PCR has greatly improved, and we will continue to push toward our sustainability goals for this product line. For Seventh Generation, this is not an option but an imperative. The customers expect it.”

Clearly, the solutions may be complex, but the message is simple: sustainability is here to stay.


  1. GMA/Deloitte, Finding the green in today’s shoppers: Sustainability trends and new shopper insights,
  2. Tiller, Tiller Green Survey, 2009,
  3. RILA, Retail Industry Sustainability Report, 2012,
  4. Cone Communications, 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study, 2010,
  5. Perception Research Services, Packaging & the Environment, Shoppers Say: “Please Help Me!”, 2012,
  6. Cone Communications, Green Gap Trend Tracker Fact Sheet. 2012,
  7. Fleishman Hillard, Women, Power, and Money, the shift to a female driven economy, 2009, (as cited in Fleishman Hillard, Does Sustainability Factor into Consumers Purchasing Decisions: You bet, 2011),
  8. Generate Insight, Confused Teens Choose Less Expensive Over Green, 2009,
  9. Capstrat Puplic Policy Polling, Interest in Sustainability Remains Consistent Through Downturn, 2010,

(All accessed Sept 20, 2012)

Beth Scherer leads the sustainability program at Curtis Packaging, a pioneer in the sustainable production of luxury folding cartons. Curtis was the first print and packaging company in North America to operate using 100% renewable electricity, be carbon neutral and be certified by both the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). She is responsible for setting companywide environmental goals, implementing sustainability programs, and for all CSR reporting. She holds a masters of environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and a BA in economics from Colby College.