How you package your goods is a major decision for any eCommerce brand. You need to think about cost, how best to protect your goods in transit, and increasingly, your environmental impact.
Why? Because your packaging plays a huge role in the size of your business’s carbon footprint. It’s also an issue that consumers are more attuned to than ever before. As governments around the world take action by banning single-use plastics, we have grown increasingly conscious of how our consumption affects the environment.
As a result, sustainable packaging is now expected by many consumers. But it has more benefits for your business than helping to protect the environment!
In this blog, we’ll run through the benefits of adopting sustainable packaging, and the wide range of solutions that are available to your business.
So, why should I switch to sustainable packaging?
This is a bit of a no-brainer. We all know that putting in the effort to protect the planet is the right thing to do - simply a part of being a responsible retailer.
However, discussions about sustainability tend to focus on big corporations, even though small businesses make up 99% of economic activity in the United States!
Sustainable packaging is an easy way to reduce your business’s carbon footprint - and that of your customers. According to the EPA, packaging makes up a third of all household waste. We also know that plastic pollution is a huge environmental problem right now. Not contributing to this makes a world of difference!
However, there is still a popular misconception that sustainable packaging designs are only the domain of ‘eco-brands’. But eco-friendly business practices can no longer be isolated to a fringe area of the consumer market. Over 90% of CEOS state that sustainable practices are now fundamental to the success of a business. Moreover, a survey by Nielsen found that a whopping 81% of respondents feel that it’s businesses’ duty to help protect the environment.
The takeaway here? ‘Sustainability’ doesn’t have to be a core value of your brand for you to invest in sustainable packaging. Today, being environmentally conscious is simply what the majority of consumers expect.
In 2019, there are few barriers to getting your start-up underway. eCommerce platforms such as BigCommerce and Shopify allow you to build a site and start selling within hours. Business blogs are also full of actionable advice on branding and selling for newcomers.
In short, it’s never been easier to get your business up and running.
However, easier access means more competition. In a crowded marketplace, it can be tough to set yourself apart. This is especially true for branded retailers, who usually curate collections from existing products. When your range isn’t unique, you need to find alternative ways to give your business an edge.
A sustainable packaging design isn’t just great for the environment; it’s a fantastic selling point for your brand. Why? Because consumers care more than ever before about the impact of their purchasing habits. According to Dotcom Distribution’s 2019 study, 62% of shoppers are more likely to buy from brands that use sustainable packaging. This rises to 74% amongst 18-29 year-olds.
Let’s say that there are multiple retailers offering the exact same product, but your brand is the only one using sustainable packaging. In the eyes of conscious consumers, this makes you far more desirable than your competitors.
‘Sustainable’ has become another word for ‘expensive’ for many businesses and consumers. According to Raconteur, 43% of businesses cite cost as being the main barrier to adopting sustainable packaging designs.
The main reason why plastics and polystyrene have become abundant in packaging is because they are cheap to produce and source. The logic goes that eco-friendly alternatives must be more expensive. Otherwise, we would be using them already, right?
Not quite! It’s true that the cost per unit can be higher for materials such as paper or cardboard. However, this doesn’t take into account that many sustainable materials can be reused when plastics cannot.
Moreover, by taking the time to revamp your packaging design, you may find that you have been using more packaging than is necessary. An efficient and trimmed-down packaging design can save your business a lot of money in the long run!
‘Sustainable packaging’ as a concept can sound a bit intimidating - but it’s a lot more straightforward than you might think. In fact, we are willing to wager that you are using some sustainable packaging methods already!
This is the backbone of any sustainable packaging design. Paper and cardboard are easy to source and can be used for a variety of elements, such as boxes, filler, or wrapping paper. They are also renewable sources and are easily recyclable. To make your packaging as sustainable as possible, consider using only FSC-certified or recycled sources.
Once a fairly niche product, compostable packaging elements are one of the fastest-growing sustainable packaging solutions. It provides for safe disposal by biodegrading quickly and leaving no harmful residues behind. Common materials used in compostable packaging are corn starch, sugarcane, and mushroom fibers
This is important if you are doing any kind of custom printing for your packaging - not all inks are created alike! Many traditional inks are petroleum-based (meaning they aren’t sustainable) and leave cardboard and paper un-recyclable. Soy-based inks are totally renewable and can be easily washed off cardboard and paper during recycling.
Over-packaging is a massive problem in eCommerce (as anyone who has ordered off an online marketplace would know!) Too-big boxes with lots of filler create a huge amount of unnecessary waste - as well as costing your business more money in materials.
This usually happens when a business has bought incorrectly-sized containers. It’s important to spend time figuring out which size is best for you, or even storing multiple sizes to cater to different orders.
Apparel brands in particular have a big advantage here. Clothing garments are soft, can be easily folded, and require a lot less protection. As a result, boxes are not always necessary, except in the case of large orders.
This makes eco-friendly shipping mailers a fantastic option for both packaging and posting goods to customers, as shown above by Little Chicago Clothing. They are cheaper per unit than conventional boxes, and also require far less space to store!
The biggest reason that a lot of conventional packaging is unsustainable is because it’s single-use. Once it has reached the customer and kept the product safe in transit, it’s supposed to be discarded. The result is mounting packaging waste that we struggle to keep on top of, including within recycling centers.
Your business can avoid contributing to this problem by using packaging which is multi-use. For example, a branded tote bag can easily replace conventional soft plastic to wrap a product in. It’s also a fun freebie that boosts the perceived value of your orders!
By keeping packaging in use for longer, these materials can be integrated back into a circular economy that reduces waste in the long term.
The biggest mistake that businesses make when adopting sustainable packaging? Not telling their customers about it! This is an issue for two reasons. For one, it’s impossible for sustainable packaging to be a selling point for your brand if you don’t promote it. But even more importantly, this also runs the risk of your packaging being disposed of incorrectly.
For example, compostable packaging needs to be disposed of in composting conditions i.e. where oxygen is present. If it’s disposed of in the regular waste stream and goes to the landfill, it’s impossible for any composting to take place.
In short, the sustainability of your packaging could be seriously undermined if you don’t take the time to educate your customers.
An easy way to do this is to enclose packaging inserts within your orders that explain your design, and any procedures that need to be followed for eco-friendly disposal. Alternatively, you could post a ‘how-to’ guide on your website (just like this one we made for our compostable mailers!)
In sum, sustainable packaging has far more benefits for your brand than you might think. This well as protecting the environment, you are also staking out your eco-friendly commitment. This makes you a far more desirable retailer in the eyes of conscious consumers.
Switching to sustainable packaging also doesn’t have to mean a complete revamp. Maximizing the use of renewable and reusable materials is a straightforward way to reduce the impact of your packaging. Both the planet and your customers will thank you for it!
Written by Beth Owens
Beth Owens is the Content Strategist and resident unboxing expert at noissue. Her main areas of expertise are ecommerce trends, sustainability for small businesses, and the art of excellent branding. Her articles have been featured by the likes of Big Cartel, Vend, BigCommerce, and RetailMinded.