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Eco Opportunities in Beauty Packaging

By: Sara Mason
Posted: May 31, 2013, from the June 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

As consumers become more educated on product ingredients—and more vocal about their support for the use of natural ingredients—they expect to see a similar eco-consciousness reflected in the packaging of their products. Therefore, beauty companies are coming under increasing pressure to be sustainable and utilize green packaging.

Emotional Appeal

Package design can communicate a brand’s philosophy and marketing story. Many consumer decisions are made unconsciously, and if a package makes the right impression to consumers, it is much more likely to appeal to their emotions and influence their buying decisions.

“Packaging has an incredible ability to sway the consumer at the point of purchase,” says Kyla Fisher, corporate sustainability director, PaperWorks. When brand owners look to appeal to an eco-conscious consumer at the point of purchase, packaging is often the best way to communicate the brand’s commitment.

In a recent Eco Market study cited by Fisher, surveyed consumers said packaging was the first place they checked for a brand’s sustainability story. “These consumers are more discerning and more likely to seek out information actively on brands before making a purchase decision than other consumers,” she explains. “They also are well-educated and know what packaging attributes indicate a natural, healthy or eco-conscious brand.”

The most effective way to ensure that products make it from store shelves to their carts is to make sure the packaging communicates what they need to know, as well as the values of the brand. A brand that touts sustainability as a value but does not “walk the walk” with an eco-conscious package—either because a well-intentioned packaging format is difficult for consumers to recycle or because the package has chemical properties thought to be harmful—will only be perceived as greenwashing. “It’s important to be well-versed in these trends and understand the importance of balancing a look that fits the category with elements that will differentiate the product on-shelf,” says Fisher.

Cost Comparison

The package is a communication tool for any brand, and it is an excellent opportunity to tell a great sustainability story, provide information consumers are looking for and help the product stand out on the shelf. Consumers who are actively seeking brands with values that match their own are likely to pay a higher price for that product. “These consumers aren’t standing in the aisle weighing whether they will purchase a product at a higher price point just because the packaging looks interesting,” says Fisher. “The packaging isn’t a separate entity from the product; it is an extension of it.”

A luxurious, all-natural skin care brand touted as an eco-luxe indulgence, Kari Gran wanted to do its part to reduce the brand’s impact on the environment by using recyclable packaging and eco-friendly materials whenever possible. Gran’s products are designed to encourage a holistic approach, and the philosophy is timeliness and classic—the “little black dress” of skin care. “Our product packaging is a visual representation of those values,” brand founder Kari Gran says.

For high-end cosmetics, glass continues to be a popular choice. It also is recognized as recyclable and can be repurposed—even though it costs more to use and ship.

“We had wanted to house our products in black glass, but found that black glass was clear glass that had been coated, thereby not allowing the glass to be recycled,” explains Gran. Instead, Gran chose 100% recyclable dark violet glass bottles that would look good and enhance the shelf life of the product. Miron glass is a sturdy, European-imported glass that blocks the complete spectrum of visible light, which would otherwise accelerate molecular decay among preservative-free ingredients, providing the proverbial cool, dark place suggested by many as the ideal storage environment advised for natural products that don’t contain chemical preservatives.

While the attractive and functional packaging may not be a deciding factor for everyone, Gran wanted to be true to the brand. The cost of the Miron glass is four to five times what it would cost to use plastic or amber/clear/cobalt glass, but Gran decided it was the only glass she was willing to use rather than go a cheaper route. “We didn’t want to sacrifice luxury in the name of being kind to the environment, or vice versa,” Gran explains. “The glass looks and feels substantial, allowing the quality of our packaging to reflect the quality of the ingredients in all of our products.”

As the brand grows, the plan is to keep this mindset as a key brand value. “Eco-friendly materials are always a priority when making any buying decisions moving forward,” says Gran.

The Trade-off

Like the higher-priced Miron glass, there is a trade-off for eco-packaging. How much are consumers willing to give in or give up in order to solve the problem? That is the question, according to packaging consultant JoAnn Hines. “Studies continually show that consumers want more environmentally friendly packaging, but not if it affects the price, quality or convenience,” she notes. Often, consumers are saying one thing and doing another—especially in the U.S., which tends to have a more throw-away mentality. “Single-serve, disposable, fast-food, cups-to-go, one-time use—these are booming packaging trends that revolve around instant gratification and fly in the face of the environmental movement,” explains Hines.