The challenge of creating sustainable products and packaging is nuanced and requires an understanding of how people shop and consume your products. First, the product needs to succeed at-shelf and be purchased, then it needs to be recycled, reused, composted, or disposed of properly. The risk of friction or deselection when renovating to a greener offering can be a large barrier for brands and can make the process feel like a burden. However, consumer mindsets are changing and the long-term benefits could outweigh the short-term costs. 

There’s power in persuasion 

For sustainable CPG offerings to work shoppers need to purchase them. As Part One details, habits are hard to break, communication is unclear, and life is chaotic. Packages created with persuasive designs in mind can influence existing behavior with little notice to the consumer. Colgate recently unveiled a new, recyclable toothpaste tube. The shape/form and product remain the same, but the disposal instructions are impossible to ignore and easy to follow: put in the recycle bin, no need to rinse. They also decided to make the new design open source so any brand can adopt the tube. While the process still requires a behavior change, Colgate minimized every barrier except for one: put it in the blue bin instead of the trash can. 

Consumer communication is key 

Sustainability means different things to different people, so how do mainstream brands gain traction? Does that mean not leading with sustainability to reduce friction? Especially in the CPG space, packaging has a limited amount of time to capture a shopper’s interest and make it into their baskets, so leveraging sustainable attributes depends on the category and the target consumer. Energy savings claims may mean more when translated to dollars. Clear direction on how to recycle a package is more impactful than saying it’s “100% Recyclable.” In any situation, the packaging itself and communication will need to be excellent. Good simply won’t decrease friction enough to ensure the effort is successful. Companies will need to commit to excellence, even if it takes multiple iterations to get there, but that level of investment in excellence is an absolute necessity. 

Build loyalty through transparency 

Brands like Patagonia have prioritized the social and environmental impact of their business and built a ferociously loyal customer base as a result. In the case of launching sustainable products and packaging, consumers are more likely to embrace a mission put forth by a company that is transparent about what exactly is being done and how it will create positive change. Building this level of loyalty becomes more difficult with more mainstream products and audiences, but younger generations are increasingly aware of the risk to continuing in the status quo, and the desire for sustainability is becoming increasingly mainstream. 

When it comes down to it, sustainability is challenging. Trying to change behavior while making a sale and maintaining a profit while funding eco-friendly innovations is a delicate balance with big implications. If companies are transparent about their motives, persuasive in their design, and clear in their communication the equation gets a little simpler and ensures sustainability initiatives are a win for companies and consumers in the short and long runs. 

Read part one: Shopping Sustainably in CPG: The Challenge.

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