This month I spoke with two global brand owner companies regarding their sustainable packaging efforts. One is a well-known cereal company. The other is a designer of men’s clothes that sells through its own stores as well as high end department stores. Both meetings included long discussions related to the differing perspective of design and packaging engineers versus marketing and sales professionals.
I also spoke to their converters/packaging suppliers about their sustainability efforts. They appeared to work from the perspective that they needed to be a one-stop shop that offered anything that their customers might want. None of them had their own strategies worked out regarding how to position themselves and their products to customers to best meet their customers’ sustainability goals.
It struck me that both the packaging suppliers and their brand-owner customers would be far better off if they could articulate their sustainability directions in a way that was relevant and distinctive to their respective customers. After all, consumer-packaged goods (CPG) companies want consumers to know about their sustainability initiatives, and want their converter suppliers to provide them with solutions that deliver on those initiatives.
Voila! Witness the birth of the Sustainability Value Proposition (SVP). The SVP lays down the specific sustainability message(s) and rationale(s) that you want to communicate to consumers.
Before you can develop the SVP, you must first create or review your Brand’s positioning statement. If you’re a converter, consider this your corporate positioning statement. If you don’t have one, you should. It should look like this:
Target Audience - Who are you trying to influence or motivate, and why?
Key Competition - With what other products or brands do you compete for your audience’s attention?
Overall Marketing Message/Positioning - What is the key message that makes your brand or company most relevant to your audience and distinctive from your competitors’ messaging? (Think of it this way: Brand X or Company Y is the brand of cat litter/packaging converter that….)
Rationale - What information can you provide to back up your messaging claims?
Brand Personality - Describe the style and tone of your messaging and your Brand’s/Company’s personality attributes.
Now, let’s add to this the sustainability proposition for your brand’s packaging (or the packaging that you provide to a brand):
Corporate Sustainability Goals - What is your corporation trying to achieve in its overall sustainability and ESG programs? Maybe you’re shooting for a corporate elimination of virgin materials in your packaging, or greenhouse gas reductions, water savings, etc. It will be more efficient and effective to leverage corporate objectives in your brand approach.
Competitive Sustainability Goals - What are competitors doing in this regard? While it’s okay to have similar goals, it would be better to be distinctive in terms of what you wish to accomplish, how much, and by when.
Sustainable Value Proposition - The packaging for Brand X/from Company Y reduces negative environmental impacts by reducing/eliminating (greenhouse gas generation, material use, non-renewable energy consumption, use of virgin material, non-recycled material). Conversely, you might say that Brand X reduces negative environmental impact by increasing the use of (recycled materials, recyclable materials, renewable materials, renewable energy, etc.)
Notice that I didn’t say that Brand X was better for the environment. I don’t believe that this is a supportable claim. Everything we do creates entropy. Thus, the best you might say is that your product is not as bad for the environment, and I doubt you want to do that.
Proof: Your proof points should be very specific, giving relative and/or absolute values for your claims, as well as being specific as to the comparison being made.
Here’s a simple example of what you can say: This package uses 20% less virgin material (or 8 grams less material) than our previous or package (or versus our nearest competitors).
Here’s an example of what you absolutely cannot say: This package uses less material and is better for the planet.
You should list both your marketing position statement and sustainable value proposition every time you review creative work or generate a creative brief. Creative work and other forms of messaging should reflect both. Work should be consistent in terms of content, context, and tone.
Here’s one last point. This concept is a work in progress. I’d appreciate any suggestions you have that can help make it better.
Robert (Bob) Lilienfeld has been involved in sustainable packaging for 25 years, working as a marketing executive, consultant, strategic planner, editor, writer, and communications expert. He’s President of Robert Lilienfeld Consulting, working with materials suppliers, converters, trade associations, retailers, and brand owners. He is Executive Director at SPRING, The Sustainable Packaging Research, Information, and Networking Group. You can also write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his LinkedIn profile.