Small changes, big impact

* 5 min read
There are plenty of swaps we can make as consumers to lessen our impact on the environment, which take little effort and can have a huge impact.

Investing in a reusable water bottle could mean 167 fewer single use bottles in the system over the course of a year, with a reusable coffee cup cutting out the need for 500 single use cups in a year.

Reusable vs SingleUse Bottles3

This small effort by many individuals could be the catalyst for changing brand behaviours. For example, 73 per cent of people said they’d use a refillable bottle if they could help themselves to drinking water in shops and cafes. And this shift in behaviour could actually affect the business’ bottom line, as 65 per cent said they’d be more inclined to make a purchase in that shop or café if the service was offered, and 62 per cent would choose that brand over a competitor. Co-op is a great example of a retailer responding to this consumer demand with its new concept store at Manchester Piccadilly station, in which they have introduced a refillable water station where consumers can refill their own bottles for free.

138550 Co op water taps

It can be simple for manufacturers to make incremental changes at the top of the chain too; some small actions can have a huge effect, reducing cost rather than adding it. For example, removing the cellophane on greetings cards would take a large amount of nonrecyclable material out of the system. A solution has to be found, and could be standardising the sizes of cards or colour coding envelopes. This seems to be a straightforward swap and some retailers, including Asda are already looking into it. Alternatively, how far would consumers be willing to adapt their behaviour? Would they be willing to slip their card and envelope into a slimline pocket on the inside of their bag for life?

M&S, Waitrose, ASDA, Morrisons, Co-op and Aldi are already working to reduce their impact on the environment, by eliminating the use of black rigid plastics / trays and replacing them with recyclable alternatives instead. The product is still protected and preserved, so the consumer sees no negative impact, but sees a positive in that they can put the trays in their home recycling bin knowing they aren’t actually going to end up in landfill.

“From experience gained when working with our clients, unfortunately, we’ve found that non-recyclable black rigid trays are currently low cost due to high volumes and, in most cases, cheaper than clear trays.”

Gillian Garside-Wight - Packaging Technology Director

Gill continues: “This has to change and with many retailers opting to ‘do the right thing’ and increase recycling rates by eliminating black plastic then we should start to see the pendulum shift. We recently attended Walmart’s sustainable packaging summit in the states, and replacing black plastic featured as one of their key focus areas. With increased volume for alternative, recyclable materials then the price will be driven down – watch this space.”

Of course, if you’re starting from scratch, long-term sustainability should be front of mind. It’s not about trendsurfing and responding to the issue of the day, but about putting your consumer first, considering what’s relevant and what matters to them, as well as what’s right for you as a brand. For example, avoiding all plastics in your packaging may not be feasible, especially if removing plastic means damage to the product or the consumer experience. Creating packaging from ocean plastics or bioplastics could be an alternative, as could providing refillable bottles that last for months or even years to come. Some businesses have made sustainability central to their brand, in terms of both product and positioning. US manufacturer Replenish, whose strapline is Refill Smart, have created a modular bottle which takes a concentrated detergent pod, so you retain the main body and simply replace the pod once it’s empty. To activate the concentrated detergent, you simply top up the bottle with tap water, which reduces weight and carbon impact in shipping the bottle. Replenish claim that the average household detergent is 90 per cent water and just 10 per cent active product, which means the consumer is paying for plastic and water.WaterRepThere is, unfortunately, no ‘one size fits all’ solution when it comes to sustainability, but relevance should be one of your main filters when deciding what the concept means to you. Sun Branding Solutions looks at every project through different lenses and from different vantage points to find solutions that are right for your consumer, your category and your business, to help you see where you are now, but also what might come next.

Many brands are responding to the ocean plastic contamination issue by moving to compostable or biodegradable packaging, to meet increasing consumer demand to cut the plastic problem. And while that might mean short-term positive PR for the brand, a lack of consumer understanding about the alternatives could mean they still end up as fish food. Greenpeace state that every minute there’s a truck load of rubbish dumped into our oceans, everything from plastic bottles to microbeads.

Not all compostable packs can be composted in your garden compost bin, many can only be processed in industrial plants, and both compostable and biodegradable packs can still end up in the ocean if they aren’t disposed of correctly. So, while it might seem like the right thing to move to compostable or biodegradable plastic for your packaging, if you don’t look at the change through a consumer lens, you’re just moving the issue further down the line. If people don’t understand how to properly dispose of your apparently eco-friendly packaging, then you’ve simply moved responsibility from your brand to the consumer, and that isn’t a long-term solution.