Sustainability Claims & Packaging Communication; Using Your Package to Communicate Sustainability | Dieline

As demonstrated at this past year’s Dieline Conference, the conversation around sustainability is growing and impacting how designers and brands evaluate their choices for packaging. Our experience at this year’s CPG expos revealed that marketers are starting to push the boundaries of their sustainability initiatives and what story to tell on the pack, specifically regarding certifications and claims.

“The impact of on-pack messaging is clear in the fact that half of the consumers who choose the food/drink products they buy based on sustainability efforts refer to on-pack information when making decisions.”

Is Sustainability the New Clean Label?

So far, packaging claims have been informative of the action consumers can take on their end to be more sustainable-think brands saying things like ‘100% recyclable.’ And while consumers are more likely to recycle food packaging than that of other products, Mintel reports that the reverse is true as consumers place the onus of sustainability on brands.

Similar to the clean label movement, consumers are developing standards that are becoming baseline expectations. Why should they pay more for something that isn’t their responsibility in the first place? As with ethical business practices and charitable contributions, consumers see themselves as paying companies to be and do good (on their behalf) by buying their products.

What are these practices? Certified B Corp, membership to 1% for the planet, using renewable energy or sustainable paper sources are just some of them. To be relevant, brands will need to be proactive about their sustainability efforts, and designers will need to communicate these initiatives clearly for a brand to claim credibility in the space.

Packaging in the Circular Economy

Until recently, the end of a package’s life received very little thought. The circular economy aims to change that by placing attention on the full lifecycle of a package. In other words, what goes in, must come out, and make the world better, or re-enter the system again to live another “life.” So, when you’re designing packaging, you need to consider a product’s end of life as soon as you start. That way, you’re producing work with a zero-waste mentality.

Following freshness and convenience, recycling is the third leading factor consumers seek from the packaging. While consumers don’t appear to exert much effort toward sustainability, they are willing to take part in sustainability options that are easy and convenient (Mintel, Food Packaging Trends, 2019). Packaging that anticipates its end of life, with no impact on the planet or living beings without any action needed by the consumer, will be more favorably reviewed.

Partnerships with Terracycle, using earth-friendly inks that are soy or vegetable-based, and providing recyclable or compostable wrappers all show a mindset focused on circular thinking. One of our recent favorite examples is Florida’s Saltwater Brewery’s new 6-pack beer ring. They replaced the conventional 6-pack plastic ring with a biodegradable and fully digestible one made from leftover wheat and barley from the brewing process. Instead of producing a marine wildlife choking item, they’ll be feeding them.

Connecting Claims to a Bigger Message

Brands need to have a game plan when it comes to their sustainability messaging, and designers need to know the role it plays in their packaging communication. An audit of consumer product goods turns up several eco-centric claims (like in the images above), but they often act as a random one-off or checklist for a knowledgeable eco-seeking consumer. For someone who is generally unfamiliar with the multitude of sustainability claims and what they mean, it won’t have the impact brands are likely seeking.

Instead of treating sustainability claims and certifications as a checklist, explain them in the context of the brand and its goals. Tom’s of Maine uses the back panel of their deodorant to highlight how their claims support their natural products proposition and serve up more information about the brands’ good deeds.


Case in Point: Evian

If you watched this year’s Wimbledon, aside from gawking at Woody Harrelson, you likely noticed the prominent role Evian played as the event sponsor. Viewers could see the water brand hawking their new 100% rPET bottle with a label reading, “I recycle.” Evian, which is owned by Danone (a French multinational with B Corp certification) has announced plans to become carbon neutral by 2020 and fully circular by 2025. This event showcased their progress toward achieving a 100% recycled plastic bottle and elevated the importance of recycling plastic – of which only 14% gets recycled globally.

Their packaging component is only one part of a bigger story Evian is telling about their sustainability efforts. They have three main goals relating to sustainability: water ecosystems, carbon neutrality, and the development of a fully circular brand. Their marketing communication, packaging and partnerships center around these pillars which create a strong, consistent narrative for the brand, lending credibility when telling their story to consumers.

Moving Forward

In addition to understanding the latest certifications and claims brands, educating consumers about what they mean should be a priority, and where possible, tie to brand initiatives. There is still a gap in knowledge about how packaging lives on after consumer use, and the responsibility falls on brands to help close it.

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