Sustainable Packaging: Unpacking the Opportunities for Brand

We are now in the decade of decision and action on sustainability. The packaging landscape represents a perfect microcosm of this larger global challenge, as it is closely linked to 12 of the 17 UN’s SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

In recent years, consumer pressure on initiatives such as ‘plastic free’ and ‘zero waste’ has only been compounded by regulation. And with a wave of new sustainable-native brands demonstrating that progress is possible, packaging has been put in the firing line.

Consumers now expect brands to find solutions and will opt out if not achieved. In response, brands have been making incremental changes to reduce harm, but this has led to a lack of differentiation; a compliance-induced green sea of sameness which erodes brand strength, and business success.

Whilst the asks around packaging are still mostly about materials and recyclability to reduce harm, a new emerging sustainability mindset focused on positive impact beyond harm offers huge opportunities for brands. Using your brand to innovate beyond compliance will create relevance while doing good for people and planet, as well as helping to create competitive advantage in the green sea of sameness.

In a world where packaging is in the bullseye of plastic waste, how can brands shift usage to build a strong brand that disrupts on physical and digital shelves, whilst also connecting with consumers in their daily lives?

During a recent Landor & Fitch webinar, we discussed practical solutions for achieving competitive advantage through a brand-led good pack strategy:

  • Design with your brand in mind

The act of doing good needs to be brand-led in order to move beyond compliance and into a space where sustainability sets brands apart. Take a look back at the ‘tech bubble’ where businesses rushed to produce the same apps and UX design. While this made life easier for consumers, it also diluted the difference in experience, meaning tech brands all looked and felt the same.

Sustainability should be a space for unique, brand-led experiences. adidas is one of the most advanced examples of a global brand doing this – its brand purpose of sports having the power to change lives flows through everything it does. Especially so with the launch of Futurecraft.Loop: a shoe and its pack, made of one material and with no glue. People can use them, bring them back and have them turned into new shoes again. Marvellous from a manufacturing innovation point of view, but also done in a very brand-led, impactful way that is truly adidas.

  • Think beyond green

Brands can create positive change that goes beyond the environment and into other areas, like accessibility to further differentiate and create brand strength and business success. Creating positive change can involve any one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and this is exactly what Rexona did with Degree, producing an inclusive deodorant packaging for use by those with disabilities. Aimed at those with visual impairment and upper extremity impairment, the deodorant packaging was co-created with users to make it truly accessible and innovative. This creates a highly differentiating story for the brand in it’s competitive set.

Xbox took a similar approach, crowdsourcing ideas from those who know its products best – its customers. Working with gamers who have disabilities, Xbox redesigned its whole customer journey – from ordering and buying the console to the packaging itself – to be more adaptive and accessible to all.

  • Consider packaging as an opportunity to drive behavioural change

We won’t solve the global sustainability problem just by changing packaging materials. Instead, brands should use packaging as a platform to help drive behavioural change.

Landor & Fitch collaborated with cereal giant Kellogg’s to create #stayinghomewithcoco – packaging that communicated the importance of staying home during the pandemic to kids, along with a digital portal to help them make sense of what was going on in the world around them.

Likewise, DELL used the CES technology convention in Las Vegas as a call to action on reducing electronic waste, by turning ‘unboxing’ into ‘re-boxing’; so rather than sending boxes of products to journalists ahead of the event, the brand sent empty boxes with a request to return old, unused electrical goods that could be recycled or repurposed.

  • Use packaging to educate and be transparent

What if packaging was considered a channel to educate and empower consumers? It’s an exciting and impactful route for brands to affect change. It’s also a wonderful way to do something that helps consumers and raises awareness around initiatives that link to the brand values, goals, passions and causes.

weDO adopted this approach by removing marketing jargon, instead opting for clear and concise information on exactly what is in the product and its function. This helps to not only improve transparency, but also to help customers make better, informed choices.

Landor & Fitch also partnered with laundry care brand, Ariel, to educate consumers on washing clothes at 30o through the brand packaging addressing one of laundry’s biggest impact on the environment. This call to action drove a huge shift in consumer behaviour in a very fast turn-around.

  • Adapt the packaging (and products) to the channel

When it comes to packaging, less is often more. This is the philosophy that bulk buy wine brand, Less, adopted inviting shoppers to refill their bottles directly from wooden casks at its shops. Less stayed true to its identity, using cut out labels that provide only necessary information, reducing its printing needs. Alongside the ‘Unique Drop’ bespoke bottle, each label is customised by a drop of the wine it contains to enhance the instore customer journey.

Taking a stand on packaging requires a willingness to be brave and experiment. Apparel brand, Prana, embodied this through its packaging Emblazoned with ‘This is a test’. Its plastic-free paper packaging highlights the risks the brand is taking to find the right solutions, with an openness to the consumer that brought them along on the sustainability journey and addressing the overpackaging challenge created by online shopping.

  • Use packaging to be generous

Packaging has the potential to give back to both consumers and the world, by shifting attention from point-of-sale to imagining what it could become after use. Landor & Fitch worked with Japanese brand, Onecupickles, to develop a pack that would turn its glass jars into beautiful lights, allowing the customer to create something magical and reuse packaging that would otherwise go to waste.

At the same time, giving back can benefit business – in the case of Haagen Daz, its reusable metal containers not only improved the performance of the product (keeping it cooler for longer), but also reduced carbon footprint and elevated the premium feel of the brand overall.

Businesses must act now, while planning for the long-term, in order to achieve sustainable goals. As we have seen, there are various ways to adapt brand-led solutions to products and packaging. These strategies can drive short-term changes and long-term brand building, to make a real difference. We need to encourage the idea that packaging is not just for enclosing or protecting products throughout their life cycle, but to also create positive impact and progress for planet and people.

To hear industry experts discuss this further, join the Landor & Fitch’s Sustainable Packaging Unpacked Webinar.