Magazine article Marketing

Packaging: Less Waste, More Impact

Magazine article Marketing

Packaging: Less Waste, More Impact

Article excerpt

These products mark the rise of green design. By using compostable or less bulky material, they aim to reduce the 5m tonnes of packaging thrown away each year. What are you doing to help?

The eyes of ethically minded consumers are not just on the contents of the products they buy; they are scrutinising the wrapping too. In response, brands are now taking green packaging very seriously. Until recently, there has been more talk than action among designers and brand owners when it comes to overhauling product packaging to make it more environmentally friendly, with some honourable exceptions. But now food retailers and brands appear to be falling over themselves to be seen as proactive about 'citizenship' responsibilities. Reducing the impact on the environment is becoming a good way to gain stand-out.

Brewer Adnams, mobile operator O2 and food manufacturer Heinz are some of the brands to have been testing greener packs. Among retailers, Marks & Spencer has committed to reduce the amount of packaging it uses by 25% as part of a pounds 200m five-year eco-plan, while Asda is aiming to cut its total by 5% over the same timescale. These moves are significant - according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), 50% of the UK's household waste originated as a purchase from a top-five supermarket. As those households throw away 5m tonnes of both packaging and food every year, the supermarket supply chain is clearly a significant source of landfill waste.

These companies' efforts reflect how green issues have moved from fringe interest to mainstream consumer concern; in doing so they have become a factor that could hit the bottom lines of those retailers and brand owners that fail to measure up. There is clear demand for such changes, according to Stuart Lendrum, print and packaging manager for Sainsbury's. 'We are pushing at an open door. Our customers tell us that packaging can have a big impact on what they buy,' he says.

The supermarket has introduced fresh design standards with the intention of reducing packaging. These now form the basis for briefing designers. 'Our starting point is not to over-package, and the packaging that we do need should be either reusable, home compostable or recyclable,' adds Lendrum.

Sainsbury's has been working with design agency BR&Me to introduce a labelling system that makes explicit in accessible language the origins and recyclability of the packaging materials it uses. Even when it cannot be recycled, the label provides a notice saying 'Sorry, not recyclable'. M&S has also committed to a clearer environmental labelling scheme.

These efforts follow the major food retailers' signing of the 2005 Courtauld Commitment to reducing packaging waste. This formed part of a ministerial summit, held at London's Courtauld Gallery, which brought together major retailers and manufacturers, including Unilever and Northern Foods, to dicsuss waste. The result was a commitment to end the growth of packaging waste by 2008 and actively reduce it by 2010.

Yet it is only now, two years on, that momentum is really building. Design agencies are reporting that manufactuers as well as retailers have begun to ask for more environmentally friendly packaging. They argue it is a change in consumer attitudes, rather than legislators' efforts, that has caused the shift. 'There has been a change. It is starting to appear in brand briefs,' says Design Bridge director of 3D branding and design Nick Verebelyi, who has been working with WRAP on developing greener food packs. 'It's beginning to be taken very seriously.'

His views are shared by Vicky Bullen, chief executive of Coley Porter Bell. 'Our feeling is that packaging is on the cusp of changing incredibly,' she says. 'Manufacturers and brands are having to match words with action - their bottom line will be down if they don't do anything about it. Consumers are starting to act and they are going to demand more. …

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