Consumers are now actively searching for brands to support their eco-friendly values — things like reducing carbon footprint, toxins, waste emissions, and pollution. As a result, brands must now not only assess the need for eco-friendly action, but also question their readiness.

Below, we’ve outlined four sustainable actions companies can take, while subsequently presenting questions brand leadership should ask themselves to help assess their abilities, limitations, and potential global impact.

The company-owned package.

Remember the convenience of the milkman? Some dairy companies still adhere to the refill model, delivered to the customer’s door. Brands are now looking to leverage the eco-friendly approach of reusable containers to meet the demands of eco-conscience consumers.  

A recent innovation in the reusable packaging industry is the launch of a company called Loop. Loop delivers products in high-quality packaging that can be returned and refilled — changing the ownership model of packaging from the consumer back to the producer. Consumers do not discard the package, rather Loop is delivered in a durable tote which is picked up for cleaning and replenishment.

The returnable packaging market is on the rise, with projections set to reach $51.2 billion by 2023. The demand for returnable packaging is attributed to implemention from various end-use industries, as well as rapid urbanization and the cost-effectiveness of returnable packaging.

So far, Loop’s partners include: P&G, Nestle, PepsiCo, Unilever, Mars, Clorox, Coca-Cola, Mondelez, and Dannon with about 300 products that will be available. This program aims to reduce product waste by encouraging the use of durable packaging, rather than recycling the cardboard that grocery delivery services usually provide.  

Recycled packaging and products.

The green packaging market, valued at $224.9 billion in 2018, is expected to register a CAGR of 5.7% between 2019 and 2024, according to a report from Market Insights. While some technological advances allow brands to explore green packaging and recyclable materials, high costs associated with environmentally-friendly options have kept some companies away.

Increased awareness about environmental concerns among both consumers and industries is driving packaging regulations and more advanced sustainability initiatives among companies.

For example, Nestle has helped advance the usage of recycled materials in packaging by setting goals for the percentage of recycled materials in their bottles. Most recently, one of Nestle’s European brands released a water bottle made of 100% recycled plastic, which set an even higher standard for innovation.

Some companies are also exploring recycled materials for the product itself. Adidas have pushed the boundaries of sustainable packaging by designing shoes that contain recycled plastic. In 2018, Adidas produced more than five million pairs of shoes using recycled plastic, and, according to the company, plan to double that figure in 2019.

Biodegradable materials.

One of the most effective ways of utilizing sustainable packaging is through the development and implementation of biodegradable materials.

This includes products that are produced without any plastic. The movement around plastic-free materials has recently centered around the discussion of plastic straws. Many beverage brands have committed to phasing out plastic straws to be replaced with more sustainable paper straws or lids that eliminate the need for straws at all.

In addition, many companies are working toward developing packaging that is compostable or directly biodegradable, with some developments including a bioplastic that can degrade like paper in water. Biodegradable packaging made from renewable resources decreases dependence on petroleum and reduces the amount of waste material, while still yielding a product that provides benefits similar to traditional plastics.  Biodegradable solutions are increasingly finding applications in a wide variety of industries, and are expected to reach a value of $119.3 billion by 2024.

Non-traditional package design.

Sustainability can also take the form of packaging designed in a unique, non-traditional way to encourage the customer to invest in both innovative packaging and the sustainability measures taken to create it.

Bite Toothpaste exemplifies how non-traditional packaging can take the form of sustainability by completely removing plastic from toothpaste. More than 1 billion tubes of toothpaste are thrown away every year, so Bite utilizes toothpaste tablets that are housed in a reusable glass container, and replacements are shipped in compostable, biodegradable materials.

By removing plastic from toothpaste, Bite has innovated a long unchanged product and introduced a more environmentally-friendly alternative to the traditional plastic tube.   

Is your brand ready to deploy sustainability initiatives?

British documentary series Blue Planet was much discussed as having shone a light on the devastating impact of ocean plastic. Some argued, however, that it has overwhelmed valuable conversations about how plastics can become a part of the circular economy with considered approaches.

Psychologists, retailers, bands and charities came together to address what can be done to harness consumers’ sustainable intentions and translate them into truly worthwhile action — both in and out of the home.

This conversation eventually led various respective industry leaders, such as P&G and Coca-Cola, to increase their sustainability efforts by disclosing claims for their supply chains.

Additionally, more than 90% of CEOs say that sustainability practices are fundamental for success. Evidence of the modern CEO’s state of mind is seen in how much attention companies are putting toward their sustainability strategies, including:

  • Developing sustainable products and services
  • Creating positions like Chief Sustainability Officer
  • Publishing sustainability reports

Brands today must be the leaders that consumers look toward to implement innovative thinking and actions to bring progress to the sustainability conversation. The value can be found in the impact on sales as well as the planet.