5 steps towards more sustainable packaging

Packaging is and can be a brand’s greatest asset not only commanding and stimulating consumer sales, but also protecting the product and informing us of its contents, whilst at the same time always being aligned to the regulatory compliance and the legalities of each market. Sir David Attenborough really hit the consciousness of consumers in the Plastic Planet episode of his Blue Planet II series and left us with a deep feeling of “What am I doing to reduce or stop my own personal impact on the planet?”. Since then the world has continuously turned up the dial on informing us of the damage that packaging and waste are having on our home and every species that inhabits it.

packaging works hard for the brand and now it needs to work even harder for the planet

Ask yourself – would you buy a Coke in a naked clear bottle? You might say “yes” but you would struggle to find it in store or elsewhere without its iconic branding and moreover we would be sceptical – is it the real thing or ‘RolaCola’? Therefore, I make a prediction that product packaging will retain a prominent part in our everyday life. Everything from cleaning, eating, washing, drinking, wearing, curing, painting, sleeping, and just living requires packaging. Often this is not only the packaging you see on the shelf, but a whole host of differing formats and materials for transporting, delivering and storing the product.

So, what to do if you are a brand owner with a myriad of products that you want more consumers to buy from you and keep them doing so? Right now, those very consumers are expecting you to take a stance and communicate what you are doing to take responsibility in addressing the packaging and waste challenge facing our planet.

how an integrated packaging strategy can help you move towards more sustainable packaging

Getting to a point where you can communicate your Packaging Sustainability stance is not easy. Typically, it requires the development of an Integrated Packaging Strategy which fundamentally outlines an overall sustainable position for your brands, the business and your consumers. Bearing in mind current consumer dynamics, here are 5 steps you need to take to get going on this journey:


Get a hold of all your packaging BOMs (Bills of Materials). All this data needs collating, understanding, analysing and fundamentally challenging. It is astonishing just how many retailers cannot flick a switch and deliver a fully detailed report on this. There are many reasons for this, but the main one I have come across is that most BOMs reside with the supplier that you are buying your finished goods from.

deep dive

When buying a finished product, work with your suppliers to always split the cost of packaging materials from the costs of the product, as this spend can equate to between 10% and in some cases I have seen 32% of the total buy. In addition, split out the costs of the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary packaging. Lastly, be clear on who and where your packaging is printed and ensure all these suppliers have been audited thoroughly by your CSR team as well.

integrated packaging strategy

Develop, validate and agree your integrated packaging strategy spanning across all business functions and in line with the 3R’s – Reduce, Reuse/Refill, and Recycle. At the same time analyse old vs. new sustainable material cost to enable your brand support and commercial strategies to be aligned.


Implement the strategy with a focus on simplicity and reduction of the number and types of packaging to leverage your spend aggregation. Also make sure to define and put in place a printer panel aligned to the current global, regional, and local supplier base geographies further helping you to leverage your printed materials spend.


Once all of this is done, you will have a better grip on packaging sustainability, your packaging cost, your consumer comms platform and your benefit levers, plus the associated compliance strategies for on-going monitoring and tracking.

If you have the available resources and focus, this journey takes anywhere between 6 months and one year depending upon your number of SKUs. Here at 4C, a typical packaging assignment is between 3-6 months with a focus on speed of delivery by leveraging our industry and consulting expertise.

A few final words for all of us personally, please take a look at your own trash and your habits. We need general acceptance and commitment to reducing the impact of packaging on our planet, or we stay as we are – guilty and complicit. If you work in the retail environment, it is on you to try and educate your consumers by putting a comms platform in place that incentivises them to change their individual approach to your brand’s packaging waste.

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