What Is Sustainable Packaging? (+6 Eco-Friendly Brand Examples)

Lesley Vos
Lesley Vos  |  May 20, 2019

We all are proud of becoming greener these days. The world population grows, the global economy develops, and both damage the natural resources of our planet. 

Consumers demand eco-friendly products, brands turn to green marketing, and everyone craves sustainable packaging. The problem is, this concept goes far beyond reusability and recycling. While a product that’s sustainably packed carries a positive connotation, brands willing to grip the trend need to take a step further and focus on its specific criteria and overall philosophy. 

Conceptualizing sustainable packaging

The above definition can seem vague, and such claims are difficult to substantiate, which is why marketers can't appeal to them when communicating their "green" and "eco-friendly" strategy to consumers. Sustainable packaging is about clear and specific environmental benefits.

A decade ago, experts would call packaging “sustainable” if it met five criteria: removable, reductive, recyclable, renewable, and reusable. Later the list was shortened to the commonly-known three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle – but also added a new concept: rethink. This was about encouraging brands to strive for more sustainable options. 

Today, sustainable packaging refers to a brand's overall sustainability and its environmental impact. While packaging standards remain different at different organizations such as SPC, ISO, or CEN, savvy brands consider them and focus on the entire life cycle of a package.  

paper packaging life cycle

Image courtesy of Bagcraft

Much of that focus goes to the end-of-life stage and standards revised by SPC in 2011.

Sustainable packaging criteria and benefits

According to these standards, sustainable packaging criteria are as per the Sustainable Packaging Coalition are as follows: 

sustainable packaging criteria graphic

 

Today, brands continue to search for new, more sustainable materials. Eco-friendly packaging is another way to demonstrate your care for the environment and listen to your customers' wants. They stand for conscious consumption and understand the benefits it brings on a global scale. These benefits include a smaller carbon footprint, freedom of allergens and toxins, more storage and space, and overall reduced usage of resources.

For businesses, it means lower manufacturing and shipping costs in the long run as well as growth in sales given that consumers are ready to pay more for sustainable products. 

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6 eco-friendly sustainable packaging examples

Sure enough, you can't come out of the blue with sustainable packaging just to remove scruples and show how cool and socially responsible you are. But it makes sense to alter the course to waste less and promote values of conscious consumption. Below are six examples of companies who know how to do just that. 

1. Marks & Spencermarks_and_spencer

With their Plan A launched back in 2007, Marks & Spencer continues to enable consumers and staff to have a positive impact on the planet. Every year they target 100 goals to commit, each of which covers five issues for better sustainability: health, waste, partnership, resources, and climate change. As for now, M&S touts 85% widely recycled materials and have removed all plastics from their service. 

Their Plan A 2025 commitments are about creating packages with the circular economy in mind. It means reducing the materials and making all packaging fully reusable/recyclable while keeping product integrity to the max. Also, they aim to cut their food waste in half by 2025 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% in their operations by 2030.

2. Unileverunilever-eco-friendly-example

Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan focuses on responsible consumption and saving water from plastic. They stand for the circular economy approach, reexamining the end of lifecycle for hardly-recycled materials in order to stimulate a better infrastructure for recycling and recovery. 

Unilever works hard to minimize their own waste and encourages consumers to do the same. By 2020, they plan to cut half of the waste from Unilever products while reducing the weight of their packaging by a third. By 2025, all their plastic packaging will be 100% reusable and compostable.  

3. Sidelsidel_sustainable-packaging-exaple

The company develops packaging design and solutions for beverage, food, and home. Their Aseptic Combi Predis was a finalist for the Sustainability Awards 2018 in the Machinery category for their input on sustainable production. It’s the technology of dry preform sterilization that uses no water and minimum chemicals in the process. What makes it different from other aseptic technologies is that sterilization takes place at the preform phase, not the bottle one.

It's cost-effective and safe for the environment. Thanks to Sidel, 57,000 tons of PET and seven billion liters of water have been saved globally.  

4. Coca-Cola coca-cola-green-packaging

As a leader in the industry, Coca-Cola is strong and responsible enough to set standards for sustainable packaging and reinforce the sustainable behavior of their customers. This is Forward, their sustainability plan launched in 2017, focused on three priorities: drinks, packaging, and society. By introducing recycled bottles to the market, the brand motivates consumers to join their eco-friendly community.  

Coca-Cola has Sustainability Goals and The Sustainability Action Plan for Packaging. By 2025, they intend to use 100% recyclable or reusable packaging, and at least 50% of the material they use for bottles will come from recycled plastic. Also, they plan to work with Coca-Cola partners in Western Europe as well as globally to re-collect 100% of their packaging.

5. SIGSig-eco-friendly-packaging

Sustainability is a part of business strategy for SIG. They provide systems and solutions for aseptic packaging by improving the materials in it. Understanding the limitation of fossil-based resources and their negative effect on the environment, the brand offers packages that answer to industry needs.

For example, their SIGNATURE PACK is the world’s first 100% plant-based renewable pack. Their flagship project, Cartons for Good, focuses on reducing food waste. SIG provides self-contained mobile food filling units for schools in Bangladesh. They follow the ISO standards, focus on responsible sourcing and products, and have an ambitious goal to reach by 2030.  

6. Procter & Gamble (P&G)procter-gamble-example

P&G is focused on packaging materials that would increase the recyclability, yet protect their products. One step is their move from boxed to bagged products, but their Ambition 2030 plan is far more ambitious. It includes reducing packaging by 20% per consumer use and doubling the use of recycled resin in plastic packaging. Also, they plan to make 90% of packaging recyclable, up from 86% in 2018.

The brand works hard on enabling and inspiring responsible consumption among consumers and partners. They educate the former by including corresponding messages on the packaging; for the latter, they invest innovation projects focused on plastics sorting and improving its recycling facilities.  


What’s to come of sustainable packaging?

For many brands, sustainable packaging still translates to "recyclable," and they don't understand where all that plastic goes nor how it's been recycled into reusable and biodegradable products. However, consumers want the story behind a product. So it's worth looking at the entire lifecycle of a product, its packaging materials, and processes behind its recycling.

For brands willing to reduce their ecological footprint, it's not about going green or sustainable anymore. It's about striving for sustainability.

Ready to learn more about sustainability? Check out our guide to smart cities in 2019.

Lesley Vos
Author

Lesley Vos

Lesley is a content creator with 7+ years of experience in web writing. Currently blogging at Bid4Papers, she's also contributing to many publications on business, marketing, and lifestyle.