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How Sustainable Packaging Can Seal Your Relationship with Millennials

Millennials spend more on eco-friendly products than anyone else. Here's how to use sustainable packaging to capture their loyalty.

Consider millennials as the poster children for sustainability. They’re the ones carrying reusable fabric bags at your local farmer’s market and driving hybrid vehicles around town. If you think about it, it’s no surprise: they learned from the Greatest Generation, who founded Earth Day and turned environmentalism into actionable steps to preserve the planet.

As millennials grab the environmentalism baton, their spending habits are expected to match their commitment to the planet. For example, one survey found that 61 percent of millennials would pay more for eco-friendly products versus 34 percent of Baby Boomers.

As millennials spend serious cash on sustainable products across all industries — from food to cleaning supplies to wellness products — companies are quickly introducing products that appeal to their desire to protect the environment.

But it doesn’t end there: Sustainability goes far beyond the product itself. If companies are interested in reducing their environmental impact, they need to choose sustainable packaging. So far, more than 400 brands have committed to making their plastic packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable — and that’s just a small sampling of what’s to come.


Here’s how your brand can boost sustainability efforts and increase revenue:


Spotting Sustainable Packaging in the Wild (or, More Likely, on a Doorstep)

Resource consumption and packaging waste are both unavoidable — but that doesn’t mean they can’t be made sustainable. After all, the most important sustainability characteristic of packaging is preventing damage during shipping. The environmental impact of replacing and reshipping an item is much higher than adding an extra foam sheet into a box. For this reason, even foam can fall into the sustainable packaging category.

Fortunately, there are many eco-friendly solutions that minimize the impact on the environment outright.

  • Manufacturing with recycled content drastically reduces the amount of virgin paper and plastic needed to create packaging. 
  • Easily recyclable materials reduce landfill waste.
  • Biodegradable materials allow waste to disintegrate in just a few weeks or months, even if they don't get recycled.
  • And of course, there are sustainable packaging solutions that do all three of these things

Other choices are less known and may even come with some stigma if the consumer doesn’t know why it was chosen. For example air cushions may fall under the "plastic is bad” category —  but when made for the circular economy, they are manufactured with recycled materials and are easily recyclable. They can be printed with the type of plastic within the recycling symbol, consumers can make sure they dispose the air cushions properly.

Choosing packaging that protects items in transit will ultimately result in fewer returns, less packaging, and decrease landfill waste. It's okay to make a choice that may not strictly be labeled sustainable, as long as the consumer understands why the packaging material was used.


Those Not-So-Crazy Kids

Before targeting millennials’ hearts and wallets, it helps to know more about them. After all, they’re currently the largest segment of the global population. They’ve grown up a lot in the last few years — with the oldest portion of millennials already well into their 30s. They have families and spending power, and when combined with Generation Z, account for 33 percent of luxury goods purchases. Remember: Many millennials grew up with Baby Boomer parents, who sparked the environmentalism movement and cultivated a sense of responsibility for the world around them.

As a result, millennials care about how their purchases impact the environment — so they’re looking at companies like yours to help them navigate recyclable packaging. Only 42 percent of all plastic packaging is recycled in Europe, which means there’s an opportunity to educate consumers on what sustainable packaging is and how it can be brought back into the circular economy.


How Mainstream Brands Lead the Way

Lest anyone think only niche brands use sustainable packaging, mainstream companies regularly make sustainable choices to appeal to millennials and other environmentally-minded consumers. For example, Proctor & Gamble plans to reduce its use of virgin petroleum in plastic packaging by 50 percent and use 90 percent recycled packaging over the next decade. General Mills set a target to sustainably as well, pledging to sustainably source 100 percent of its fiber packaging and achieve zero waste at landfills by 2025.

PVH, the fashion conglomerate running Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and others, has committed to becoming a zero-waste company by 2030. As of 2018, over 75 percent of the company's packaging is fully recyclable. To date, they have reduced the thickness of their polybag packaging to save 181.437 kg of plastic.

In today's marketplace, brands should be just as concerned about sustainability and eco-friendliness as consumers. As for millennials weary of e-commerce and shipping waste, the winning brands are those that mitigate their impact on the environment.


Need help choosing the right sustainable packaging?

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