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Less must mean more

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The accelerating drive by packaged goods manufactures towards more sustainable solutions is welcome news. But 1HQ’s Mike Webster argues that the big opportunity for brands lies not just in making less packaging – but in creating more desire. 

Unilever’s commitment to halving it’s use of new plastic by 2025 is a typically bold and principled move. But as the announcement made clear, the company believes it’s not just good for the planet but good for business too – acknowledging a shift in consumer attitudes that sees sustainability becoming an expectation, not an added bonus. 

The significance of this is two-fold. First, it breaks with the conventional wisdom that sustainability is a driver of preference only when all other attributes are equal. In other words, people will only choose more sustainable options if they are not forced to compromise on other needs (such as product performance, or convenience). Second, it points to a time when sustainable credentials will be the norm – a point of parity, rather than a point of difference. 

Mike Webster, director of 3D Structure & Experience at 1HQ, believes that this will bring a new urgency and focus to the debate. Companies that do not demonstrate they are taking steps to put their house in order will be left behind. But even those that can, will need to change their mind-set. 

Benefits of sustainable packaging

“Until now, the emphasis has been on reduction – generating less waste, choosing materials with lower impact and finding ways to militate against potentially negative consequences for market performance (such as inferior appeal on-shelf).”

The brands that will win, will be the ones that do more and go further, creating real desire in the process.

But looking ahead, Webster believes the key issue and the opportunity for competitive advantage, will lie in the potential for sustainable solutions to deliver more than an eco-friendly, feel-good factor. 

What does changing your packaging do?

“Knowing we are doing our bit for the planet will still be important but that won’t necessarily translate into preference. The brands that will win will be the ones that do more and go further, creating real desire in the process. To achieve this will require a new emphasis on a better consumer experience – not just of the product in-use but at every touch-point.” 

Webster believes this means a wider definition of the role for packaging. “We need to think beyond transporting products to shelf safely and efficiently and then converting shoppers to purchasers. Seeing packaging as containers with ads on misses the point and the opportunity because it can be so much more. When product and pack work together, creating a more rewarding experience at every point in the consumer journey, you create a vehicle for brand evangelism.” 

In this context, finding more sustainable solutions shouldn’t be seen as a constraint, says Webster. “I can’t think of a tighter, more inspiring brief than doing more with less. A great example is the re-usable spray bottle we designed for Cif, that’s now available through Amazon. It’s made from re-cycled PET for use with concentrated re-fills. But in addition to reducing waste, it’s also designed to be more ergonomic and beautiful than standard sprays – making it easy to use and hard to throw away. That all adds up to a solution that doesn’t just facilitate more sustainable behaviour, it positively rewards it.” 

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Cif Global Brand Director, Olivier Juglair underlines this point: ‘At Cif we consider that sustainability can unleash beauty. By making our bottles re-usable and refillable, we not only cut plastic by 75% but also invest in the design of our products that will stay with people for life.’ 

How to go green with packaging

Webster acknowledges that turning ambition to deliverable reality can be a daunting prospect given the complexity and scale of manufacturing and supply chains. “Sometimes the biggest question is knowing where to start. My answer to that is to identify where you want to finish. That could be putting an end to single-use packs, moving to a direct to consumer subscription model, or a vision for a completely packaging-free future. Whatever it is, getting the destination established creates a framework to inform short, medium and long-term decision making.” 

Sometimes the biggest , question is knowing where to start. My answer to that is to identify where you want to finish.

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It’s part of an approach that Webster has developed to help brands become both more sustainable and more competitive. “As well defining the vision, we help clients define a road-map to get there. Along the way, it’s plotted against the barriers to be overcome – whether that’s developing internal capability or changing consumer behaviour.” ‘The key to tackling what can seem like an overwhelming challenge, is to break it down into manageable horizons;· says Webster, “but the red-thread running through every work-stream is one simple question: how does this create a better experience and a deeper connection with consumers.” 


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