In this article we look at how the consumer packaged goods sector is responding to consumer-driven trends and the social and environmental responsibility expectations being placed on them by consumers that want to save the planet.
The new, socially and environmentally conscious consumer
16-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg has become a household name synonymous with a new generation of activists intent on applying pressure on world leaders to do more – much more – to tackle the climate change that threatens the future of our planet.
Thunberg is well-and-truly established as a poster child for a new and environmentally responsible generation of people looking to follow her example. And this prevailing attitude is inspiring consumers to increasingly demand more from businesses when it comes to reducing the negative impact of packaging on the environment.
Plastic is the No 1 enemy to the environmentally conscious consumer
The versatility, durability and inexpensiveness of plastic has played a huge part in shaping the world we live in today, from how essential products are manufactured to how they are packaged.
But there’s a massive problem. Plastic waste is toxifying our oceans and having a hugely negative impact on our environment.
There has therefore, understandably, been an enormous backlash towards plastic production and its use in packaging consumer goods. And there is increasing pressure on global society and governments to act now not only to increase the recycling of plastic packaging but to drastically reduce its usage. Particularly when it comes to single-use plastics like water bottles and drinks containers.
Businesses – and specifically manufacturers and producers of consumer packaged goods – are, then, very much in the firing line on this issue, and must respond quickly to regain consumer trust.
How are consumer brands responding?
At the beginning of 2019, Procter & Gamble (P&G) announced the creation of an alliance of global companies from the plastics and consumer goods value chain to advance solutions to eliminate plastic waste in the environment, especially in the ocean. The Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW) has committed over $1.0 billion to this cause, with the goal of investing $1.5 billion over the next five years.
One key focus of AEPW’s work will be to help enable a circular economy, which is an economic system aimed at minimising waste and making the most of resources.
Additionally, Loop is a global shopping system created by a coalition of the largest consumer product companies, along with international recycling leader TerraCycle, that will enable consumers to responsibly consume a variety of products in customised, brand-specific, durable packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused.
Turning the Tide
An eye-catching example of P&G’s efforts to reduce plastic packaging waste has been its collaboration with Amazon to transform the iconic orange Tide laundry detergent plastic bottle into more sustainable packaging.
While the instantly recognisable orange bottle was designed to stand out on a shelf in a physical retail environment, P&G acknowledged that not only are today’s consumers more likely to buy products like Tide online but also that the added packaging used to ship a large plastic bottle results in more waste.
Lauded as a win-win for the consumer and the environment – and, consequently, the brand, because the move shows it cares – the new Tide Eco-Box uses 60 percent less plastic, 30 per cent less water and is four pounds lighter than the bottle version.
Beauty shouldn’t harm the environment
Another instantly recognisable P&G brand, Olay, will pilot a new way of shopping for skincare that could dramatically reduce the amount of plastic used in the beauty sector.
Consumers will be able to purchase the refillable Olay Regenerist Whip package containing one full jar of Olay Regenerist Whip and one refill pod of moisturiser that can be placed inside the jar once it’s emptied. The package will be sold and shipped in a container made of 100% recycled paper, and will not contain an outer carton, in order to reduce the use of paperboard. The pods themselves are also recyclable.
If adopted, and the brand moves a significant portion of Olay Regenerist moisturiser jars to refillable pods (e.g. 5 million jars’ worth), Olay could potentially generate a reduction of over 1 million lbs in plastic usage.
Let’s drink to environmentally friendly packaging
We may not always associate alcohol with social or environmental good, but major international beer brand, Carlsberg, has led the way with its approach to circularity and inventive sustainable packaging.
Carlsberg Circular Community (CCC) is an innovative partnership that rethinks the design and production of packaging material to eliminate waste and optimize materials for high quality re-use and recycling in the pursuit of a circular, zero-waste economy.
One celebrated example of this new approach to sustainable and environmentally friendly packaging is the ‘Snap Pack’.
Carlsberg recognised that marine life was regularly getting caught up in or consuming the bulky plastic rings that traditionally connect six-packs of beer cans together. The brand therefore made the pioneering move of replacing these rings with an adhesive strong enough to withstand shipping but that is easy enough for consumers to break without damaging the lacquer on the famous green cans. And when the consumer does break a can off, it produces a ‘snap’ sound – hence the ‘Snap Pack’.
Carlsberg also came up with the Green Fiber Bottle, which is made from sustainably sourced wood-fibre that is 100% biodegradable and bio-based, generating zero waste.
There’s something in the water
Unrecycled single-use plastic water bottles are widely condemned as one of the key culprits when it comes to plastic pollution, particularly when it comes to the toxification of our oceans.
In addition to a societal and cultural move towards reusable drinking bottles that use more sustainable materials, those operating in the CPG space are also looking at alternatives, from infinitely recyclable glass to stainless steel and plant-based water containers. One exciting new trend is the move towards 100 per cent recyclable ‘boxed water’ or paper bottles.
Last year saw a record number of #CannesLions go-to campaigns addressing the global plastic crisis. It was observed at this year’s festival that, aside from hotel rooms freebies, it was much harder to find plastic water bottles. Boxed water was everywhere, including in the official Palais des Festivals et des Congrès de Cannes. This indicates that major decision makers at the world’s leading brands are witnessing and responding to this shift.
In conclusion – a more sustainable future
From eRetailer initiatives like Amazon’s Frustration Free Packaging to brands like Tide and Carlsberg rethinking packaging from the ground up, everyone is going all-out to look towards the future of packaging and how to make it sustainable.
Start-ups are pioneering new packaging and labelling methods focused on eCommerce, environmental sustainability and increased shopper engagement. Consumers want packaging that’s easier to manage, better-suited to eCommerce, and more environmentally friendly. Brands, meanwhile, are looking for packaging that enhances the purchasing experience by including augmented reality features, preventing food spoilage, and more.
From edible water bottles and Asian supermarkets using banana leaves instead of packaging to plant-derived protection on the surface of fresh produce that slows water loss and wastage, the CPG sector is looking ahead to new ways to make a positive impact on the environment.
As celebrities and activists continue to pile in, there seem to be endless opportunities in terms of where sustainable packaging can go in the future.
This article was written and created by the eBusiness Institute Team.
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