As the environmentally conscious movement continues to march forward, sustainable packaging is gaining greater traction in today’s marketplace. According to a 2009 report by Pike Research, a leading green industry consulting firm, sustainable packaging will account for approximately one third (32%) of all packaging materials worldwide by 2014. This represents a substantial increase over 2009 levels of 21%. If this growth rate continues at its current pace, the day will soon come when sustainable packaging becomes the norm, rather than the exception.
Ethical or sustainable packaging is a natural outcrop of the very popular green movement with its “reduce, reuse, recycle” battle cry. Not surprisingly, typical hallmarks of sustainable packaging include the use of natural (and easily renewed) or recycled materials that are either biodegradable or can be readily recycled into something else of value. Primary goals associated with sustainable packaging include reducing the amount of energy required to produce and transport products to their final destination, as well as to limit the amount of material that ends up in landfills. For these reasons, ethical packaging manufacturers generally subscribe to the “less is more” philosophy in that their end product is typically lightweight and minimalistic in nature.
Although several factors contribute to the growing popularity of sustainable packaging, increased consumer demand for more Earth-friendly products certainly plays a key role. Many consumers do judge a book by its cover and assess the quality and value of a product by the packaging that surrounds it. As eco-conscious consumers become more aware of the negative ecological and social ramifications of traditional packaging options, they become less tolerant of their use in everyday situations – and adjust their buying behaviors accordingly. All things being equal, many consumers will choose a product that will have a minimal impact on the environment over one that is heavily encased in disposable and non-biodegradable materials.
This trend can be compared to the large-scale adoption of organic foods and more fuel-efficient vehicles in recent years. In other words, today’s consumers are more aware than ever of the impact their actions and buying decisions have on their own well-being and the overall environment. Therefore, when given the option of purchasing a product packaged in natural, lightweight or recycled materials (vs. traditional non-eco friendly packaging choices), a large percentage will choose the more Earth-friendly option for a variety of social and psychological reasons. Quite simply, it feels good to do something that will have a positive impact on the environment, even if the decision to do so is on a small scale.
Consumers will continue to drive the trend toward increased sustainable packaging utilization as long as they continue to cast their votes with their purchasing decisions. In an open marketplace, when demand for an item increases, supply is sure to follow. Therefore, retailers, manufacturers and food and beverage producers will continue to innovate in order to meet that increased demand. Without question, sustainable packaging is here to stay.