Here’s the tricky thing about sustainable packaging: While it’s not a primary purchase motivator for most people, a blatant disregard for it may turn off consumers, who have increasing expectations for brands to incorporate green business practices.
In The Hartman Group’s Sustainability Outlook: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility, the Bellevue, Wash.-based firm interviewed 1,600 people and identified 88% of the population as members of the "world of sustainability." (Interestingly, while the majority of Americans identify with the term, only half can define it.)
The study found that the ability to have some kind of afterlife is the packaging feature that matters to them most—being recyclable reigned supreme. Three in four consumers (75 percent) ranked the ability to return a product’s vessel to the consumer marketplace via curbside bins as either “very important” or “important.” The feature that ranked next in packaging preference was biodegradability (71 percent). Oddly, both these choices outranked minimal packaging (62 percent), which one would think would require less recycling and biodegrading—or exertion to create—in the first place.
These choices were followed by containers composed of recycled content (67 percent), refillable containers (63 percent), containers that are reusable for other purposes (60 percent) and compostables (51 percent).
“Consumers are increasingly aware of the back-end—where it goes when it enters their home and after they touch it,” said Alison Worthington, The Hartman Group’s managing director of sustainability. “Packaging is also a great way to communicate your sustainability message. The No. 1 thing people will respond to is how it's disposed of—the three Rs [Reduce, Reuse, Recycle].”
Despite greenwashing concerns, Worthington said that environmentally friendly claims on packages aren’t met with a sarcastic eye roll most of the time. According to her study, 82% of consumers said they think brands’ green claims are mostly true and 42% said they view a certification from a third party on a package as an important factor in their decision-making process about which sustainable benefits are believable.