Consumers worldwide are making sure companies hear the call for greater accountability, sustainability and ecological stewardship. Eco-friendly packaging is one small way corporations are meeting this need.
Strong case studies emerge daily demonstrating the environmental and business benefits of sustainable, reusable and easily degradable packaging. Most companies find sustainability-mindedness rewards them with material cost savings — 60% in some cases — lower freight costs, greater available volume for shipments and more business opportunities thanks to improved brand buzz.
All these things yield ecological and business savings. Here are some reasons to switch to sustainable packaging.
What's the Definition of Sustainable Packaging?
Academic institutions offer their own interpretations of the word "sustainable,” but they all have certain fundamental characteristics in common. Sustainability in the corporate world promotes a culture of:
● Harvesting and using earthly resources in a manner that does not permanently damage or risk depleting them, like switching from petroleum to biofuel.
● Conducting business in a way that does not harm nature or includes processes to alleviate damage, such as purchasing carbon offsets.
● Transparency and a strong sense of corporate social responsibility (CSR), meaning a company can be relied upon to live within its means and not cause unnecessary harm.
● Focusing on intergenerational prosperity, opportunity and access to resources. Future generations will not be burdened by today’s choices or have fewer options.
Plastic manufactured traditionally — using petroleum as a substrate — is not sustainable because it depends upon a finite resource. However, when made from industrial hemp, this ingredient can be replanted, grows quickly and isn't an especially thirsty crop.
Several US states have lifted bans on hemp farming for precisely this purpose. They’re unlocking considerable business and sustainability opportunities in the process, ranging from longer-lasting and more durable finished products to vastly more biodegradable packaging.
It's worth exploring the motivations for pursuing sustainable packaging in greater detail.
Why Switch to Sustainable Packaging?
There are six main reasons why now is the time to switch to sustainable packaging, but some companies find other ways that aren’t even on this list.
1. Bring Down Costs Using Eco-Friendly Packaging
It's simple mathematics. Any product that depends upon a finite resource will only become more expensive over time.
Build strong, regional, sustainability-focused supply chains for essential supplies, including packaging, to avoid shortages and price shocks.
Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes sustainable packaging as a way to recover revenue lost to poor manufacturing processes and unnecessary waste.2. Foster Environmental Protection and Remediation
It takes 10-20 years for some everyday plastic products to degrade in landfills. Others — like plastic bottles — require multiple human lifetimes or several centuries before they give up the ghost. These petroleum-based products take up limited landfill space while leaching toxins into the water table, soil and air.
Sustainable packaging relies on renewable crops and materials instead, such as recycled paper pulp, sugarcane, potato starch and cornstarch. These break down far more quickly and without the resulting surface-level and environmental pollution as typical plastic packaging.3. Lower Overhead Costs
Businesses also enjoy ancillary savings after adopting sustainable packaging, in addition to reducing the cost burden of buying materials regularly. Cheaper freight is one. Sustainable packaging is lighter in some cases, which yields compounding savings on shipping and handling.
Companies save money by eliminating unnecessary fabrication, too. Some food, beverage and cosmetics companies have packaging-return systems — frequently referred to as a circular economy. Consumers can send back unused glass, metal or ceramic containers in exchange for a discount on their next order.
Companies save money and reduce their ecological footprint by washing and reusing those cartons and jars instead of continuously fabricating or sourcing new ones.4. Solve Problems Without a Huge Ecological Footprint
Using less material and leaving a smaller earthly footprint is in everyone's best interests. Unfortunately, until recent breakthroughs in product packaging, it simply wasn't possible to house some products — like fuels, fragrances, solvents, flavorings and some organic ingredients — in Earth-friendly packaging.
Improved, eco-friendly formulations of common plastics, like HDPE, solve these limitations with sustainable solutions for storing and shipping volatile or sensitive products. Making just one strategic product package substitution could eliminate some 42,000 metric tons of waste destined for landfills. That can be done while still meeting the physical requirements of major product families, like food, cleaning and beauty products, during shipping, storage and final usage.
5. Build Better Brand Loyalty
The younger generations are turning out to be a choosy bunch. Most millennials and younger cohorts decisively favor strong corporate social responsibility, of which sustainability is an essential component.
According to surveys and other research, the modern consumer is more concerned on average with the state of the planet and corporate accountability than ever. Some 30% indicate an active desire to improve the environment's health, 23% want to reduce production waste, 22% want to shrink their carbon footprints and 17% name animal welfare their top-tier concern while shopping.
Consumers will reward the companies that help them achieve these goals with repeated business, positive word-of-mouth buzz and a strong reputation.
6. Enjoy Improved Retention and a Stronger Culture
The struggle to retain workers is real. There's also something to be said for offering people more than a paycheck. More employees want to know their labor supports socially responsible, ecologically neutral, future-focused companies.
Employees who feel they're a part of a strong social and ecological mission are 87% less likely to quit unexpectedly and put in up to 57% greater effort while at work. This yields further savings through lower recruitment costs and less frequent employee turnover.
Making the Switch to Sustainable Packaging
There is very likely a compelling, cost-saving, Earth-friendly packaging option out there that fits a company’s product portfolio like a glove. New sustainable materials, and improved formulations of existing ones, emerge regularly these days. No matter how specialized the product or finicky its handling requirements are, there's probably a suitable eco-friendly package available.
There are so many reasons to switch. From day-one savings on materials that won't vanish from Earth any time soon to lower freight costs to a host of benefits related to a stronger culture and sense of purpose, eco-friendly packaging more than pulls its weight.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly covers trends in the industrial sector.