A New Generation Demands Sustainable Packaging

The other day, I was doing some grocery shopping with my eleven- year -old son. I reached for some pre-packaged strawberries and he stopped me. “Too much plastic. Get those,” he said, pointing to the bulk berries. Trying not to look too shocked, I headed for the bulk berries. After a little investigation I learned that this new vigilance came from his school, which now has an on-going packaging awareness program. It includes guest speakers, contests to see whose lunch box has the least left over garbage, and anti-plastic posters in the science lab.

Old habits may be hard to break but a new generation is growing up with a whole new understanding when it comes to choice in the market place—and environmental awareness is starting to play a significant role. Just look at bottled water sales, which are significantly down for the first time in five years. This is partly due to the economy, but also to an aggressive anti-plastic environmental campaign. Some health foods stores have even stopped selling bottled water. In response, Coke recently launched a new PET plastic bottle made with 30% recycled waste material.

When it comes to sustainable packaging, there are basically two strategies. One, use less material, and two, use recyclable or biodegradable material. From what we’re seeing out there, one shouldn’t assume that eco-friendly means a compromise in aesthetics and functionality.  Pangea soaps and Straus Creamery, for example a have distinguished their brands from the pack by pioneering ecologically smart, really cool-looking alternative packaging.

But as I said before, old habits are hard to break. Recently a client was exploring an on-the-go snack idea. The company’s consumer research showed that people wanted less packaging. The marketing department’s answer was to shrink the paper tray that carried six plastic cups. When I showed the concept mockups around the office, the general response was, “Looks like a lot of plastic.” In this case, “less” is not enough. I encouraged the client to find an alternative to the plastic. The response was, “But, people also said they want to see the product, so we have to use plastic.” Actually, they don’t have to use plastic. How about PLA (biodegradable ”plastic” usually made from corn or even better, molded paper with a PLA lid or window? That is a 100% biodegradable container. Would it add to the cost? Maybe, but factor in the added value of building a brand awareness strategy around the company’s environmental efforts. Or, forget the PR value. Factor in my eleven year old son. It won’t be long before he’s doing his own shopping.