In a consumer driven marketplace there are few actions that speak as loudly as “voting with your wallet” and as Pira International’s latest packaging industry survey reveals, companies are indeed listening. The firm recently released a comprehensive marketing intelligence report entitled The Future of Sustainable Packaging to 2020: Convenience Vs the Environment, which outlines a dramatic shift in perception within the packaging industry regarding sustainability. The research firm chose to approach the study from a “consumer-based” perspective, seeking to understand exactly what forces are driving the marketplace.
Pira interviewed key players in the global packaging supply chain in order to understand what they considered to be the largest drivers of growth in the sustainable packaging industry. According to Pira, sustainability is defined as growth that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. The results of the study showed that 79% of the respondents felt consumer awareness of environmental issues and new material developments were the most important factors driving growth within the field.
Based on the results of the study, the researchers concluded that “…the packaging industry cannot help but become the sustainability focal point and primary benchmark for other industries.” Linda Casey of Packaging Digest went on to state “Not only is packaging a resource intensive sector in an increasingly resource constrained world, but tons of packaging waste are ending up in landfills daily.” Considering these factors, it becomes quite clear that the potential for innovation within the industry is huge.
Major companies are beginning to take note and a few have stepped forward to lead the “sustainable packaging revolution” by adopting forward-thinking solutions that eschew traditional petroleum-based plastics. In the public sector, Whole Foods Market, Proctor and Gamble’s Gillette Razor Company (UK), and Pepsi Co. are among those that have led the charge by adopting 100% recyclable, plant-based packaging for use on some of their products. With many of the worlds most recognizable brands preparing to follow suit, it is only a matter of time before truly sustainable, plant-based packaging becomes an industry standard.
The large scale adoption of plant-based packaging currently underway is helping to create economies of scale that will encourage companies that may have initially been reluctant to adopt sustainable packaging due its high price to reconsider their decisions. This is especially true in light of the recent surge in oil prices that continues to make traditional petroleum-based plastic packaging look less favorable by the day.
In addition to measuring drivers of growth, Pira’s study also identified major barriers that need to be overcome in order for sustainable packaging to be adopted on a wider scale. Researchers concluded that there is a significant level of confusion surrounding “eco buzz words” such as biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, recycled, and other variations on these and similar terms. While there is a growing number of highly educated eco-enthusiasts that intentionally seek out green products, the reality is that the average consumer is overwhelmed by the growing list of vaguely defined and often overlapping terms used to market and describe sustainable packaging.
The study’s authors suggest that both the packaging industry and consumers need to work together to develop a unified set of standards that will end confusion and maintain transparency in the rapidly growing sustainability sector. Independent organizations such as the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute have developed their own strict standards that could potentially serve as a framework for future legislation. A list of packaging companies that are currently certified by the organization can be found here.
While the report’s overall outlook is certainly positive, there nonetheless remain significant hurdles that need to be overcome in the rapidly growing field. If consumers are indeed the major drivers of growth within the industry, it is imperative that they understand just what it is they are getting.
To find out more about Pira International or to purchase a copy of the report, visit their website at www.pira-international.com.