17th Dec 2019
Sustainability has repeatedly hit the headlines again this year and we can expect it to continue to remain at the fore of news reports in 2020 and beyond. The need for greater environmental preservation and protection is winning more hearts and minds, and is being embraced by many retailers to meet consumer expectations.
The retail sector is leading the charge in terms of ecological investments and innovations. Retailers are actively thinking about how product manufacturing, distribution and sales can be more sustainable. New concepts are being imagined, ideas tested, and changes already being implemented. Nowhere is this more evident in retail than packaging.
Rising ecommerce sales mean consumers are increasingly thinking more about packaging. Before they received goods direct to their doors, shoppers had less visibility of the outer tertiary packaging like boxes and mailbags, and the secondary packaging used to protect products during transit. Their main focus was the point of sale packaging which a product is sold in.
Now, consumers are actively involved in the opening and disposal of both tertiary and secondary packaging. This has created both opportunities and challenges for retailers, inspiring innovation and change.
Opportunity has been realised through capitalising on the ‘unboxing’ moment. Clever design of tertiary and secondary packaging can build anticipation. It brings theatre to opening a mailbag or box, with consumer excitement about receiving an item maximised and shared on social media. It’s great for promoting brand awareness and digital word of mouth. Previously, outer packaging was mainly functional. It is now as much of a marketing tool as the primary packaging.
However, packaging can also prove challenging, especially during the busy Christmas trading period. This year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday coincided with monthly pay days and meant people started their online Christmas shopping earlier. This results in shoppers receiving a high volume of deliveries in a short, concentrated period of time. They have multiple packaged goods and think harder about the materials used to deliver these. It’s at this point retailers need to simplify their sustainability messaging.
There are two key elements significantly impacting packaging sustainability, which creates confusion among consumers. These factors include extensive debate and ground-breaking innovation.
Debate is, in part, fuelled by Government and EU ambitions to create a circular economy. This is based on eliminating waste and maximising the lifecycle of a manufactured good. Understandably, this leads to many differing claims about the various types of packaging materials and their wider benefits in terms of efficiencies and effectiveness. It has also led to the demonisation of some materials like plastic.
Such debate is taking place against a backdrop of genuine innovation, where new packaging materials are either being rolled-out or are still being tested and their associated sustainability credentials being determined.
Bring these two elements together and you end-up with consumers being bombarded with claims and counterclaims about packaging sustainability. This can lead to misinformation and misunderstanding, and can also cause consumers to become disengaged. When shoppers are opening their ecommerce delivery, they want to simply know it has been delivered and packaged in a sustainable way.
Many retailers already know the importance of recyclable and renewable materials. Now it’s more a case of meeting consumer demand for the ‘what’ and ‘how’. They want to know exactly ‘what’ the packaging is made from and ‘how’ it is sustainable. It can seem pedantic, but it’s really important to note the difference at this point between ‘how’ and ‘why’. Consumers are already bamboozled by claims about ‘why’ something is sustainable – they want to quickly know ‘how’ it is actually better for the environment and reducing CO2.
The ‘how’ needs to be explained succinctly and be easy to grasp. For example, we produce GreenPE mailing bags from a renewable and sustainable source, sugar cane. During the ethical growth of the sugar cane, it captures and stores CO2 from the atmosphere helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is chemically identical to regular plastic which means the mailing bags are recyclable in the same way. Plus it’s straight-forward to calculate how each kilogram of Green PE produced saves 2.85kg of CO2 when compared to the production of conventional fossil-based polyethylene.
The simplicity of this sustainability messaging is proving a hit with retailers. We’ve sold over 4 million (4,095,000) GreenPE mailing bags during the past 10 weeks, as online retailers and logistics firms fulfil orders for the Black Friday and Christmas trading period. This is a 243% increase compared to the same period* last year and has saved the equivalent of around 2,400 tonnes of CO2.
The opening of an ecommerce delivery is no longer simply about great packaging design and aesthetics to deliver a memorable and shareable brand experience. It’s about enabling carbon conscious consumers to feel responsible and reassured their packaging is sustainable. This needs to be done quickly to ensure shoppers are satisfied they’ve made the right choice about their online purchase and can comfortably make repeat purchases from the same retailer.