Do consumers really value sustainable packaging?

By Tom Szaky in Sustainable Packaging on January 31, 2013

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TerraCycle upcycled packagingIt’s a fact of life that we, as social beings, look for common ground when building relationships. Companies are no exception to this rule. Often, people seek out brands and companies that reflect their values. For instance, whether a company is charitable or not will influences its ability to attract a consumer that values this trait. With this I ask, do consumers really care about and value sustainable packaging? While some may be quick to answer “Yes”, it should not be forgotten that there are far more personal factors that consumers may care about other than the packaging of a product. Of course those familiar with my business know I am “all-in” that people do care about sustainable packaging.

Surprisingly, factors pertaining to the environment rank among the top issues consumers care about, with clean air the second- highest issue -only out ranked by safe drinking water as shown in a 2007 study by BBMG. Consumers, now more than ever, are becoming aware of the importance and benefits of sustainable packaging and realizes its relation to issues such as clean air and renewable energy. This, in essence, explains the growing rate of consumers supporting and participating in our programs at TerraCycle.

Yet, more important than social issues are the product’s attributes the ultimate driving factors in consumer sustainable behavior participation. As expected, the price and quality of a product outweigh the attribute of energy efficiency or recyclability. Consumers are not willing to sacrifice the convenience of a product even if the packaging of the product is excessive and wasteful. Despite price being the leading attribute, consumers are willing to pay a small additional cost if it ensures the packaging is environmentally friendly. It’s completely understandable. While it is nice to be environmentally conscious, consumers do not want to break their budgets in the process. In addition to this, the 2012 Regeneration Consumer Study states the performance of the product must meet or exceed that of the previous product for consumers to entirely embrace the more sustainable option.

Without a doubt, consumers are becoming more and more demanding. A good amount of consumers expect companies to already participate in principles that better the environment. In fact, according to the Perception Research Services (PRS), more than 80% of consumers across the U.S., U.K., China, and Germany believe it is the manufacturers’ responsibility and expect manufacturers to produce sustainable packaging, without demanding consumers to pay for the cost of the production. Fortunately, there is also a considerable amount of consumers that realize sustainable packaging is the responsibility of both the consumer and the manufacturer. If you don’t demand something better, companies are unlikely to make improvements.

In all, sustainability is slowly integrating itself in mass consumer culture. Consumers are beginning to identify themselves with the terms “conscious consumer”, “socially responsible”, and “environmentally-friendly” at high rates. In fact in the same 2007 BBMG study I previously mentioned, 88% of consumers said they were a “conscious” and “socially responsible” while 86% believed themselves to participate in “environmentally-friendly” behavior. If this is any indication, it is that consumers do value sustainable packaging, as they believe they are individually responsible for what happens in society.

Therefore, the demand to make sustainable packaging affordable and up-to-par with other packaging options is rational from the standpoint of a consumer. Even if there is a miniscule rise in cost, the prized value of sustainability will see more and more companies actively engaging in sustainable packaging for consumers.
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9 Comments

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Nice article Tom - thanks. Do you know of any studies that quantify how much extra people are willing to pay for sustainable packaging, or perhaps even sustainable products themselves. We are designing some new products and packaging and would value any input.
I have seen this data previously, that indicates consumers are concerned about the environment, but not willing to pay for sustainable products. Do you have the percentage of population that shows the numbers of consumers that actually pay additional prices for sustainable products?
I like your perspective on this. I recently did an estimate on what it would cost to extrude films made from organic sourced polymers for packaging applications. When I presented it to a supplier of this type of film, he refused to discuss price further. This leads me to the conclusion that suppliers of sustainable materials must come to the table with honest mark-ups for their converted materials. Then the assumption you make of a modest cost increase will then become achievable. Competition in time will make this happen. I can tell you a hundred stories about how greed killed good ideas for years. I would like to see convertors bring pricing to the table that promotes sustainable packaging solutions soon. They will benefit by volume related profits if they think in terms of the volumes possible. Price gouging is always small thinking.
It inspires the readers.Thanks for sharing information .
Hi JC, In regards to hard numbers, approximately 67% of American consumers are willing to pay 5-10 cents more for packaging that is environmentally friendly. This was indicated by the PRS study I mentioned above titled “Packaging and the Environment: A Cross-Cultural Perspective”. Another good study is the Cohn & Wolfe Green Brands Survey, which found that 20% of Americans would spend more than 10% extra on a green product. Hello PW, Interesting enough, I haven’t come across any data that indicates the actual number of consumers within the population, currently paying more for sustainable packaging and products. The studies I’ve read state how willing and likely a consumer is to pay more with the numbers ranging from 60% and higher. We hope that helps to answer your questions!
Nice article - while I work for an IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) company - which gives altrentaive pacakaging solution replacing - wooden, plasric caron corrugated boxes etc but gives max benifit in term of cost saving as we reverse logistics on lease basis, hence customer to levae to concerte on its core business and leave to pacakaging expert.
Wonderful insight Tom. I wonder what role marketing professionals play in having sustainability considered when they re-design or design packaging. Surely they have a part in this process as well?
In response to Vic’s comment, out packaging team is part of the Creative department and we work with Art Directors and Designers to include considerations for sustainability and recyclable materials as part of that development process. It is part of our long term strategy for packaging innovation.
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