Recent consumer research by Amcor shows that consumers really do want to be more sustainable in day-to-day life.
But how do brands meet those demands in packaging?
And how do they effectively communicate packaging sustainability?
Despite facing an unprecedented global pandemic, sustainability continues to be a key concern and hot issue for consumers all over the world.
Indeed, the dip in carbon emissions and slowing down of the economy have only added to the growing conversations around sustainability and what the future should look like in a post-COVID reality.
With this in mind, it is not surprising that issues such as global warming and plastic pollution are still so high on consumer agendas.
Research from Amcor shows that 37% 1 of Europeans say they are determined to make a difference when it comes to sustainable living.
This presents brands with a unique set of challenges. First: how do they meet the demands for more sustainability in packaging? Second: how do they communicate that to consumers?
Do consumer beliefs and actions align on the issue of sustainability? And if not, what can be done to change this?
These are not always easy questions to answer but with the right information and guidance, brands can make some headway into addressing consumer concerns.
Consumers: what they think they know Vs. what they actually know
Logos are a quick and visual method for communicating important information, but are consumers being asked to remember too many?
Our research into the understanding of common packaging sustainability logos demonstrates discrepancies and misunderstandings across the globe, indicating that perhaps messages around packaging sustainability aren’t always clear.
For example, the Green Dot symbol used in some European countries tells consumers that the producer contributed funds toward recycling systems, but it does not guarantee that the pack bearing the symbol is in fact recyclable.
But on average, only 15% of European consumers knew this.
Most respondents believed the logo indicates the packaging can be recycled.
Despite the best intentions, these misunderstandings have an environmental impact, such as disposing of products incorrectly and polluting recycling streams.
Understanding isn’t much better when it comes to biodegradable or compostable packaging.
32% of consumers believe this type of packaging is the least damaging for the environment, and 50% of consumers would buy a product for its compostable packaging.
However, upwards of 50% cannot identify the corresponding logo and see biodegradable and compostable as interchangeable.
This confusion demonstrates that even when enthusiasm for a product is high, there is a strong need for better education around logos and what they mean for proper packaging disposal.
Brands: What sustainability means to them Vs. what sustainability means to their customers
Knowing which packaging sustainability logos are best understood is the first step in allowing brands and retailers to better leverage them on their packaging.
But this is only the first step.
The second step is education.
Brands already know that sustainability is a difficult issue to straddle effectively. Plastic packaging is not a black and white topic: by protecting and keeping food fresh, packaging can reduce food waste, which has a much higher carbon footprint than the packaging does.
It is relatively low-carbon to produce too: particularly compared to glass and aluminum which are not only heavier to transport, but more resource intensive as well.
The challenge is helping consumers understand the multi-faceted nature of packaging sustainability, while keeping messages clear and easy to understand.
Education: Focus on clarity
Our research shows that consumers have plenty of sustainability information already but what they need is better information.
The level of eco-literacy has risen dramatically over the last decades.
Now consumers want options that will empower them to make more sustainable decisions.
In order to do this, sustainability claims on packaging need to be reliable, relevant, transparent, accessible and easy-to-understand. Are labels consistent and accurate?
Are they relevant to the local context and are instructions on what to do with used packaging clear? Better labelling can guide better behavior, and better environmental outcomes.
A deeper understanding of how recyclability and its requirements fit into the wider sustainability conversation is going to be crucial for brands that want to future-proof their products and build their sustainability credentials.
Brands and retailers can help to educate consumers on making a difference through pragmatic adjustments.
Our research suggests that the largest category of consumers, the incremental change-makers, will respond to this kind of improvement positively, creating an opportunity for brands to demonstrate their sustainable strengths.