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Why Brands Must Focus More on Sustainable Packaging as E-Commerce Grows

The increase of e-commerce sales has meant an increase in packages being sent from warehouses to online shoppers. These packages require different features than the items that are picked up in-store, which provides brands with an opportunity to get creative and design something that is not only functional but also representative of their brand.

Sustainability, in particular, is an important consideration for all packaging. The carbon footprint associated with shipping packages can be at odds with much of the messaging that brands are putting out right now, about their commitment to eco-friendly policies. But by being thoughtful about the materials used in packaging and shipping product, brands can significantly reduce their waste and uphold their values.

“Good packaging considers the entire span of usage, from the factory to the end-consumer,” said Michael Kaufmann, global packaging director at manufacturing company Avery Dennison RBIS. “It is built with the optimal balance of costs, engineered to fit the product, and supports the brand’s ethos, while using renewable resources with minimal environmental impact and being easy to dispose of at the end of life.”

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E-commerce purchases remove the opportunity to exchange goods in person, which means that the package itself has to provide that enriched experience. Kaufmann highlighted thoughtful details like unpacking items from their original plastic polybags and repackaging them efficiently and prettily, so that consumers enjoy the unboxing process but also have less waste to dispose of.

Reducing the amount of packing materials used is a clear way to convey that a brand is environmentally conscious, but the material choice is also important. In a recent consumer survey, Avery Dennison found that 63% of consumers care as much about the packaging material of their purchase as they do about the product material itself. And yet even when they try to improve their environmental standards, many brands are still getting it wrong.

Reducing the amount of packaging used to ship product provides an improved unboxing experience for the consumer, as well as minimizing waste.
CREDIT: ulza - Adobe Stock

“We see some solutions getting into the market that have all the best intentions to tackle our global wastage and pollution issues, but do not consider the true end-of-life realities,” said Kaufmann. “Well-known institutions like the Sustainable Packaging Coalition confirm that compostable or dissolvable plastics can cause more harm than good.”

Instead, brands should look for certified and previously-recycled materials when assessing their packaging selections. Kaufmann recommends a healthy skepticism when assessing the promises made by self-described sustainable materials. Instead, brands should engage with peers within the industry and learn from their experiences, in order to reduce the likelihood of a failed project or the selection of a textile that doesn’t align cost-wise.

Despite a growing interest from the industry to implement sustainable practices, the Avery Dennison survey found that there was still a long way to go. Of those surveyed, 63% believe that online fashion orders are delivered in excessive or unsustainable packaging and nearly half said they would pay more for a plastic-free experience.

“Consumers are more educated and they want to know more about how and where their products are sourced, and the same now for packaging,” said Kaufmann. “What impacts do the packages create to the environment? How do I recycle it? Consumers are looking for brands that are transparent and engage them with their brand ethics.”

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