How brands can find their unique approach to sustainable packaging

Brands must act fast to end their reliance on plastic

Jack Holloway, Landor & Fitch

Industrial Design Lead


Brands around the world are upping their efforts to end their reliance on plastic. Global companies like Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Coca-Cola have all committed to tackling the plastic problem. And Plastic Free July is as good a time as any to applaud this. But while these brands should get the plaudits for tackling environmental issues, doing so isn’t enough for them to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

Instead, brands must approach sustainability in their own unique way, drawing from their own specific appeal to entice consumers while still meeting ‘green’ goals. Taking this approach can give brands the competitive edge over others. And with a 2020 Trivium Packaging report finding that 74% of consumers would pay more for sustainable packaging, there are huge opportunities for brands willing to go the extra mile.

Standing up and standing out

Sustainable packaging should be seen as an opportunity to truly differentiate rather than follow the crowd – a chance to create a unique experience that consumers won’t forget. To find a unique approach to packaging, brands must go back to basics. Function and form are still the core of great packaging and providing you handle the first, the latter is where a brand can really stand out.

An avenue brands could explore is using digital to improve the consumer packaging experience. For example, augmented reality (AR) is not only a great way to engage consumers at a higher level but could also mean reducing how much printed collateral you use.

Beauty brand Kevin Murphy is a shining example of a brand that has tapped into its unique appeal and made the most of it. It aims to use ocean plastic to create its signature square bottles, which can be transported more efficiently to create less pollution.

Another unique aspect of Kevin Murphy’s sustainability approach is that it’s accountable to itself and consumer. It engages with customers regularly, discussing how it is making its supply chain even more sustainable, and holding its hands up when it has fallen short. This level of transparency is something that more brands should do. Supply chains can be complex systems that sometimes result in issues that are out of a brand’s direct control. By being honest with consumers, they are less likely to face accusations of hypocrisy and more likely to be praised for their approach.  

Additionally, reinventing how a product is presented can be a unique way for brands to entice consumers in new, sustainable, and imaginative ways. Cosmetic company FORGO, for example, provides hand wash that’s shipped as powder and reformulated into liquid by the consumer. Not only does this mean the product can be packaged in paper instead of plastic, but that it takes up less space when shipped, further reducing its impact on the environment.

Paper isn’t a silver bullet

FORGO isn’t the only brand using paper in place of plastic. Other brands across industries are following suit. Loli, which uses compostable labels, bags and boxes, and Boxed Water, which is packaged in a 92% plant-based box, are other examples of brands in the hygiene and food sectors turning to paper packaging. But while its great brands are exploring other materials; they shouldn’t see paper as the knight in shining armour that will end the war on waste and secure a green future.

The increasing popularity of paper materials has caused demand to explode, putting more pressure on the supply chain to cut down trees and meet these growing needs. The pressure on paper has also increased following the massive shift to online shopping brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s a danger that in the eyes of eco-conscious consumers, the scourge of overpackaging undermines any sustainable initiatives a brand may have taken.  

There’s a danger that in the eyes of eco-conscious consumers, the scourge of overpackaging undermines any sustainable initiatives a brand may have taken.

Jack Holloway, Industrial Design Lead, Landor & Fitch

Bright future

With so many brands taking positive steps to stand up, the future looks bright for packaging design. But brands that fail to embrace a greener future have already been left behind. It’s also clear that simply going plastic-free and embracing alternatives such as paper is no longer enough. Brands must find a packaging experience that meets sustainability expectations, while also celebrating their unique offering. Failure to achieve this will lead to them becoming lost in a sea of sameness – a fate worse than death for any consumer brand.

Guest Author

Jack Holloway, Landor & Fitch

Industrial Design Lead


Jack Holloway is the Industrial Design Lead at Landor & Fitch, having worked at the global brand transformation company for over three years. In total, Jack has over ten years of industry experience designing products, packaging and environments for some of the world’s biggest brands. Jack is particularly passionate about sustainability and champions innovative practices that help brands deliver and exceed their sustainability promises.

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