Prior to writing this essay, I cannot say I gave much thought to the packing of products my parents and I purchase. Or so I thought! During our recent trips to the grocery store, CVS and Best Buy I became more keenly aware of how environmentally friendly packaging influences our choices. Turns out, packaging materials are some of the most ubiquitous and easily recognizable items people use in our daily lives. Packaging includes plastic bottles, metal cans, food wrappings, corrugated cardboard boxes and many more materials. Understanding the production and disposal of these materials is crucial in making economic and environmentally conscious decisions.
Below I elaborate on the several reasons I believe more companies should go green by adopting environmentally friendly packaging.
Consumers have become increasingly concerned about the environmental consequences of packaging. Businesses are feeling increasing pressure to use eco-friendly packaging for their products. During the grocery store trip I mentioned above, I noticed how our purchasing decisions were not solely driven by the quality or value of the product. My parents and I were also mindful of the packing. The introduction of environmentally friendly packaging into the marketplace is a win for consumers who now more than ever want to purchase greener products. A consumer survey (conducted by Cone Communications Market Research Company) found that almost ninety percent of U.S. consumers consider the environmental impact of manufacturing, consuming, and disposing of a product when they make a purchase decision.
Reduces product pricing.
The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Making a new product requires a lot of materials and energy – raw materials must be extracted from the earth, and the product must be fabricated then transported to wherever it will be sold. As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment, and save money. When manufacturers make their products with less packaging, they use less raw material. This reduces waste and costs. These extra savings can be passed along to the consumer. Sustainable packaging also helps businesses reduce costs by avoiding emission and disposal levies.
Reduces landfills and helps communities.
Food-related and other packaging/containers account for almost 45% of the materials landfilled in the United States. Landfill waste impacts our environment and makes communities near them less tolerable to live in. Packaging has a lot of environmental impacts, while it also represents a significant cost in the current supply system. Reusable packaging significantly reduces environmental impacts.
Pro-environmental marketing works.
When companies brand their products “eco-friendly,” it conveys they have far-reaching environmental benefits. There is evidence to support that consumers, believing product A has a low environmental impact, are more apt to purchase it over product B with less environmentally friendly packaging. It should be noted that if product A is significantly more expensive, consumers will toss environmental concerns aside to save money. Companies, therefore, can increase sales through more eco-friendly packaging as long as their pricing is still competitive. They can also increase sales by meeting the growing consumer demand for products which are sustainable and have a reduced environmental impact. Furthermore, studies have consistently found that two-thirds of U.S. consumers are more likely to purchase products and services offered by firms engaging in sustainability related business practices (Nielsen Company, 2012).
Companies adopting environmentally friendly packaging often benefit from higher revenue streams and greater cost savings.
For starters, they can more easily compete in international markets, such as Asia and Europe. They can also expand into additional retailers. Environmentally friendly packaging also generally weighs less. When products weigh less, the weight of the freight trucks also go down which improves fuel economy. Alternatively, more products can be put on a truck, reducing the number of trucks needed to transport them. Either way, it’s good for economics and reduces greenhouse gases. Overall, the trucking aspect cannot be ignored. Environmentally friendly packaging has benefits throughout the supply chain, both upstream and downstream.
Using sustainable packaging isn’t “rocket science.
Rethinking the approach to packaging in order to create a world where packaging doesn’t become waste is much easier today. More and more companies both large and small are taking actions to redesign their packaging portfolio to reduce the unneeded packaging, and to redesign the needed packaging to ensure it’s reusable, recyclable or compostable. For example, at one time doll boxes had see-through plastic covers, presumably to prevent customers from touching the doll. Now, most dolls are sold without it. Another example is prominent brand which sells a dispenser for their breakfast biscuits. The packing stays in your house (reuse) and therefore the brand is ‘in your face’ every day. This effect is similar to grocery stores who provide reusable bags with their logos all over them. Another example is boxed water. The packaging is made from paper, which is renewable and 100% recyclable. Boxed water is more efficient to ship than plastic bottles, further reducing the carbon footprint. Still, the widespread use of water bottles, despite their excessive amount of waste, have persisted due to their convenience. No one can argue that most people purchase bottled water in recyclable plastic. Most do not realize boxed water has less of an environmental impact versus plastic waste. Other examples of sustainable packaging include reduced or thinner packaging, less materials used in packaging, renewable materials used in packaging and using post-consumer recycled content. Another push is the reduction in composites. An example of a composite is a chip bag. When companies seek to eliminate composites, they don’t have to buy as many materials which is a cost reduction.
Going green is gives you leverage
Green companies often put pressure on their suppliers to manufacture their products more sustainably. This pressure makes entire supply chain more sustainable.
We owe it to future generations.
Sustainable packaging helps with a company’s overall sustainability, which is in turn important “to maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations” according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Recycled content is certainly a benefit to the environment. The benefit to your pockets is an added bonus!
So, what does all this mean to me? It means I will pay closer attention and be more thoughtful when making purchases from local grocery stores and retail shops. Our future generations depend on us to make these small changes in our behavior now, so that we can slow the current environmental decline and keep a greener and cleaner Earth to live and thrive on.
Essay by: Edyson Coleman Powell
Arizona State University