Why eco-friendly can be profit-friendly: the benefits of green packaging in ecommerce

Packaging can create that vital first impression of an ecommerce business for customers, and therefore plays a key role in consumer perceptions of their sustainability status

Consumers are becoming increasingly eco-conscious, and see packaging as a yardstick for sustainability, which will influence their buying habits and their brand loyalty. For ecommerce brands in particular, given that receipt of a package through the post can be a customer’s first experience of a brand, green packaging has become a crucial part of the online retail strategy.

According to research by Trivium Packaging, nearly three-quarters (74%) of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, and of those, almost a quarter are willing to pay for an increased cost of 10% or more. The report also found that almost 60% of consumers say they are less likely to buy a product in harmful packaging. 

As a result, sustainable packaging is becoming a key differentiator in the value proposition of ecommerce-focused brands, the traditional hallmarks of quality being replaced by practicality and a significantly reduced carbon footprint. Garçon Wines, for example, broke with tradition and the golden rule of ‘quality’ wine bottles by developing a flat recycled and, crucially, unbreakable plastic bottle that fits through a customer’s letterbox, clearly demonstrating the brand’s values and enhancing the consumer experience. In turn, this drives an immediate positive association with the brand and builds long-term loyalty, as consumers look to support brands that reflect their own values and vision for a better future.

Spencer Buck, founder and chief creative officer at brand design agency Taxi Studio, agrees that green packaging credentials are playing a bigger role in helping ecommerce brands to win and keep new customers. He says: “From personal experience, I was convinced to purchase a pair of shorts from outdoor clothing retailer Finisterre after reading up on their impressive sustainable credentials. The plastic bags they use are made from an innovative polymer material that dissolves in water, is non-toxic and marine safe.”

Educating consumers about packaging strategies

Yet, there is a competitive tension facing ecommerce brands as they try to achieve that balance between sustainability, brand image and customer affinity and loyalty to that brand. Traditionally the challenges have been functionality versus price, but ecommerce brands are at an advantage, as Mariella Menato, strategy director at global design firm Denomination explains.

“Providing a satisfactory consumer experience requires higher investment, so it’s important to use your e-commerce platform, including social media, to introduce consumers to sustainable packaging as part of the brand experience,” she says. “Educating them on the environmental benefits reinforces the brand’s values and the inherent value of the pack as a driver of positive impact.”

Some online brands have succeeded in striking a good balance. Last December, craft beer brand Brewgooder, in collaboration with charity Social Bite, transformed their outer delivery boxes into food bank donation packs, creating a secondary use for this recyclable packaging and making its use purposeful. At the same time it empowered consumers, while reinforcing the brand’s overall positioning as a beer for good.

“Seed Synbiotics is another good example,” says Menato. “As an extension of its brand mission, ‘health sustainability is key: the health of our planet’s ecosystems is as important as our internal ecosystems’, every aspect of their packaging is either reusable or compostable. Both beautiful and innovative, the refills arrive in a plastic alternative that completely dissolves in the kitchen sink.”

Striking a balance 

While there is clear customer demand for product packaging that is sustainable, in sectors where the look and design of the latest ‘must have’ items are crucial, aesthetics can become the priority. At online mobile accessories firm Juice Global, their packaging strategy is to provide clear consumer messaging, while ensuring that products are eye-catching, with a fun look and feel, and ‘pop’ off the virtual shelf.

General manager Steph Cotterill says: “It’s a very fine line, but we feel that the design of the packaging needs to come first and then the consumers find out that the product is, in fact, sustainable, rather than making this the key message. We need to ensure that our products continue to reflect our brand image and our values. however, if your packaging is not environmentally friendly then essentially, you are going backward.”

When it comes to sustainability, consumer values are increasingly translating to their purchasing actions, and they are willing to pay to protect the environment. This presents brands with a real opportunity to influence those purchasing decisions by offering the sustainable options that customers demand. Businesses that are not adding value to the sustainability conversation will find it increasingly difficult to compete with those that are.

Authenticity is key

Above all, companies need to be authentic in their pursuit of sustainable packaging credentials, rather than simply slapping a ‘green’ label on it. Consumers are doing more research and are better informed about the latest developments in this area, and a backlash to greenwashing attempts can inflict significant damage to a brand. 

Global research coordinated by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found that as much as 40% of firms’ green claims could be misleading. Earlier this year the CMA published the Green Claims Code to provide guidance for companies to ensure that their on-package environmental messaging complies with consumer laws. The aim is to help increasingly eco-conscious consumers make more informed decisions when they’re buying products and avoid any misleading claims.

The new guidelines also create opportunities for brands to educate consumers about the genuine eco-credentials of packaging materials such as plastic, which can help companies to enhance their sustainability credentials, and here, ecommerce brands have an advantage. Operating in the digital space, they are free of the limitations imposed on product packaging on the shelves of a physical retail store and can build entire platforms to inform, educate, campaign, and tell their own sustainability story, with the greater opportunities this brings to be the brand of choice.