In difficult economic phases, and we are undoubtedly in one at the moment, it is sure to come back like a boomerang to the list of priorities of decision-makers in companies: the central question of whether sustainability in one's own actions is actually an economically beneficial or rather a hindering factor.
Especially now, when a toxic mixture of crises and causalities, ranging from raw material shortages to tense supply chains to inflation, is burdening consumers and producers alike, many companies are also examining whether sustainable packaging is actually economically sustainable. In the USA, the print service provider and packaging manufacturer RR Donnelly recently looked into this. RR Donnelly asked 300 decision-makers from the areas of purchasing, marketing and packaging technology which challenges they saw as being the most important in this situation. In summary, the managers' state of mind is that they are facing multiple and serious challenges. For example, 68 percent of respondents said they now had to look again at packaging materials, just under half were considering alternatives in packaging design, and 45 percent were even thinking about re-evaluating their sustainability goals.
Recycling requirement and reusable packaging
But does this necessarily mean that companies are now taking another step backwards and that sustainability in packaging is relegated to a nice-to-have? No, because the raw materials situation in particular is almost forcing companies to turn to recycling-based and other sustainable approaches as well. This is especially true for those industrial production sites in Europe that were, and in some cases still are, heavily dependent on Russian natural gas or even oil. Even in the USA, which is energy self-sufficient and therefore less affected by the upheavals on the raw materials markets, interest in recycled packaging materials is greater than before the current crisis due to the shortage of virgin fibers.
The fact that the current situation is also unleashing creativity in the industry and thus bringing even more sustainable solutions into the retailer's field of vision is shown by an example from Great Britain: there, Tesco has set up a reusable system for packaging in ten stores. Consumers can buy a total of 88 different products in packaging that they take back to the store after consumption. The reusable packaging is cleaned there and put back into circulation. "In the context of raw material scarcity, CO2 reduction and also costs, the use of reusable packaging will increase significantly in the medium term and will be superior to single-use packaging. This still requires some standards in tracking, cleaning and sorting. But this is currently being worked on internationally. We have already shown what this will look like in 2019 with our CYRCOL approach," says Peter Désilets.
Allow me: Waste Warrior
Such initiatives are late in coming, but they are the answer to the now entrenched affinities of consumers. Hard hit by the daily price increases on supermarket shelves, they are more price-sensitive than ever, but at the same time a strong segment of consumers has emerged in recent years who are no longer willing to accept regression in sustainability, even if their bank balance does not currently allow them to prioritize sustainability over price. A recent study by market researcher Quantilope in cooperation with food giant Kraft Heinz, for example, did an excellent job of highlighting the nuances of consumers' sensitivities. First of all, the expected results: 79 percent of the consumers surveyed are primarily guided by price when deciding on food, while 20 percent prioritize sustainable packaging as a factor in their purchase decision. So far, so clear. But even if financial limitations currently make sustainability a decisive purchasing criterion for only one in five, Quantilope has identified a large group of people for whom sustainable packaging is important after all. They are called "waste warriors," primarily educated, middle-aged people with a somewhat higher income, for whom protecting the planet plays a major role. In Germany, 42 percent of consumers belong to this group. The astonishing thing is that for them, the sustainability component of the packaging is even more important than that of the content. "Even if 20 percent doesn't sound like much, no brand owner wants to lose this target group with its purchasing power. If the risk of image damage then hovers over the brand and the company, this can also quickly assume greater proportions. And we must not forget that many brand owners are also private label producers. Here, retailers put pressure on their own initiative for more sustainable packaging solutions for their products," says Désilets.
Surcharge is accepted
The image of the crisis-proof nature of environmentally friendly packaging is also reinforced by a look at a recent study by management consultants Simon Kucher & Partner: Only 13 percent of consumers pay less attention to the packaging factor when shopping because of the crisis, while 43 percent still attach importance to sustainability in packaging. The packaging component plays a particularly important role for food, but less so for items such as electronics or household goods. And: almost three quarters of consumers would even be prepared to accept price increases for sustainable packaging. Even now. Even in the middle of a serious crisis. This shows one thing above all: sustainability in packaging is not only crisis-proof, it is even a way out of the crisis for companies that do not want to jeopardize their customer loyalty and want to leverage pricing potential. Peter Désilets says: "Our experience from many projects shows that if sustainability is approached correctly and across departments, the end result is savings. From our point of view, sustainability is a reduction of waste: of time, energy and resources, and therefore also costs. "