Is Your Green Packaging "Eco Obvious"?

Dennis Salazar

January 30, 2014

4 Min Read
Is Your Green Packaging "Eco Obvious"?

Is Your Green Packaging "Eco Obvious"? Anyone who knows me will tell you I love a good catch phrase. For example, I am not sure if I can take credit for creating the term "eco-consistency" but I am certain I have made it more popular through repeated use in presentation and writing. I think the concept of being thorough and consistent about one’s commitment to helping preserve the earth is important, regardless of the packaging product and the size of the company using or selling it. 

A good catch phrase can make an idea or concept easier for us to remember and it can communicate a message clearly, and in very few words. Brevity is not one of my gifts so I sincerely appreciate the help. 

What is Eco-Obvious?
Allow me to provide an example of what is NOT eco obvious. I recently wrote an article about glass packaging for Sustainable Is Good. It was about the resurgence of glass primary packaging and how that presented some unique challenges to us who focus on eco friendly secondary packaging. I was somewhat surprised when I received several responses that argued glass is not a sustainable packaging product due to the energy required to make glass, shipping weight, etc. To me, glass is undeniably a green packaging product but to others, it is obviously not that obvious. 

Eco obvious is a product that is green 

• In its design, content and messaging 

• Does not require study or analysis 

• Beyond reasonable debate and cannot inspire a good argument between two green minded, hard headed people. 

Believe it or not, that third point may be the most difficult part of the criteria. 

Eco Perception versus Eco Reality
You see today it is as much about perception as it is about reality from the consumer’s perspective, not from our view point. I am not going to get into the ability or willingness of the average consumer to read tags, labels or data but the old KISS principle certainly applies. If a product is green and does not require the end user to have a degree in chemistry or packaging engineering, it is likely to be more readily understood and accepted than a green product that is less obvious. Perhaps that is not right or the way it is supposed to be but it is the reality when the majority of the population would still be described as “light green” or not green at all. 

Over two years ago I sat in on a presentation by an accomplished writer on the subject who stated that looking green was not enough that you had to really be green. I couldn’t argue with that statement then or even now, but today I would have to add that being really green is also not enough; you have to look obviously green as well. It is indeed a simple, yet complex green world we live in. 

1. Packaging that is Eco Obvious 

• Molded pulp – a favorite of those who want to be green but don’t want to have to think about sustainability.
• Paper and paperboard – Most packaging papers have remained unchanged for decades but new eco friendly coatings make them look and perform very well in green applications. 

• Corrugated – there are terrific options available today enabling green companies to virtually “dial in” the appropriate level of greenness for them and their customers 

2. Packaging that is NOT so Eco Obvious 

• PET for all of its recycling benefits is still unfortunately categorized by most people as plastic, “the root of all eco evil." 

• Inflatable cushioning products – now are available in recycled content as well as biodegradable options but their green benefits including incredibly low inbound and outbound shipping weights are often overlooked by a skeptical, untrusting green community. 

• Shrink film helps to reduce the amount of packaging that is required, allows visibility, tamper evidency and is recyclable but rarely is it recycled. Why? Because there is “not enough there to make a difference." I’ve always thought minimal waste by weight AND volume was a good thing.

The Challenge for Plastics
In case you did not notice, the three examples I provided of eco obvious packaging materials are all paper based and the three examples of non-eco obvious products are all plastic based. In my opinion the three products on the no-no list rarely get a fair shake and are greatly undervalued for the environmental good they provide. 

In order to overcome the inaccurate perception about their products, the plastics industry will have to ironically be “more transparent” about their content and recyclability. A plastic product that does not feature a recycled code imprinted on it will be rejected by the green market they are trying to solicit. Telling people their product is green on their website or brochure is also no longer enough. That green message should be very clear and visible on the product itself, for immediate and unflinching acceptance. It pays to be eco obvious and the reward is market share.


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