The Packaging ‘Environmental Impact’ Discussion Moves to the Mainstream, But Still Causes Confusion

Posted on 4/16/2013 1:54:13 PM By Jeff Timm

In the world today one cannot escape the mention of environmental impact, green, sustainability and other such terms in almost every packaging trade journal, blog, post or tweet discussion.  These words have also engulfed the world outside of packaging as most companies, be they packaging related or not, tout some aspect of environmental impact, green, sustainability in their product and/or offering and corporate image positioning.  Packaging takes a more prominent place in most of these mentions because it is the interface between the brand and the consumer/user.  It is usually where the consumer/user physically and emotionally interacts with the brand.  Besides prominence packaging also plays the aforementioned unique emotional position because it is a chance for brand owners to declare their position on the environmental impact, green, sustainability message twice – once with the product itself and secondly with the product package.  A double benefit!

One would think with all this attention and bombardment in advertising and messaging that everyone could define what sustainability actually is.  They probably can, but the problem is all have varying differences in the answer.  Because of the confusion in the marketplace consumers are unsure what to buy or how to discard a package once it is at its end-of-life.  Multiple studies indicate consumers just want to “do the right thing.”

A study released on April 2, 2013 by Cone Communications, a Boston based public relations and marketing company, 2013 Cone Communications Green Gap Trend Tracker  puts some hard data to this level of confusion.   Cone Communications states that despite the attention given to product development and environmental marketing, consumers’ misunderstanding of “green” claims has remained flat at around 60% since 2008.  “Even as green becomes increasingly top of mind, Americans still struggle with their role in the lifecycle of products with an environmental benefit.  Nine-in-10 said they believe it’s their responsibility to properly use and dispose of these products, but action isn’t aligning with intent:

  • Only 30% say they often use products in a way that achieves the intended environmental benefit.
  • Forty-two percent say they dispose of products in a way that fulfills the intended environmental benefit.”

The most surprising aspect of this research is that 85% of respondents want companies to educate them on how to properly use and dispose of products.  Other data that ties into this states that 71% wish companies would do a better job helping them understand environmental terms.  Forty-five percent use on-package or the label for information about how to properly use and dispose of material, while 26% say they are most likely to use an online search for this information.

My December 14, 2012 Packaging Blog discussed how the new Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) product label, shown below, eases end-of-life decision making and could help fill the sorely needed educational gap.


Programs like this are building steam and awareness necessary to educate the consumer to “do the right thing.”

More details on the green gap study and the impact of environmental issues on consumer purchases can be found here

I plan to discuss packaging sustainability, food waste and other pertinent topics during my presentation Game-changing Trends in the Packaging Market at the upcoming Adhesive & Sealant Council Spring Convention April 21-23, 2013, Atlanta, GA.  I hope to see you there and if you attend please look me up and introduce yourself.

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