Sustainable rebranding of products and packaging

Sustainable rebranding of products and packaging

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Monday, September 16, 2019 | Joanna Litingtun, Alvin Liao

Products and packaging are one of the most visible branded components. Fortunately, this area also represents one of the biggest opportunities to incorporate sustainable measures. If you are undergoing a merger as part of your company’s rebrand, you’re almost certainly considering your packaging and product lines already. If you’re interested in improving your sustainability as you implement your rebrand, there are several approaches available for you.

Live in a recycled material world

Are you planning a widespread shift of your company’s culture that will focus on earth-friendly practices? Then it may be worth investing some dollars into research and development to improve the sustainability of your products and packaging.

Depending on the industry, flexibility in material choice may be limited, especially when it comes to products, and the marketing team seldom gets a say in developing the product specs. Packaging, however, is a great place to invite marketing’s input, and offers many opportunities to include high-recycle, high-reuse material. To assess what’s possible, be sure to start a conversation with your R&D, compliance and regulatory teams.

Do note that R&D can be an expensive, time-consuming and laborious undertaking, requiring both internal resources and contracted experts. It does, however, make an undeniably powerful statement if you’re looking to position yourself as an indisputable champion of sustainability—a topic we covered in the first article in this series on sustainable rebranding.

Establish a sustainable rebrand from end to end

In our work with our rebranding clients, we have had the opportunity to take part in sustainability-minded RFPs with vendors. These are becoming increasingly routine criteria within the vendor selection process as environmental consciousness looms ever larger in the minds of the public. For packaging, this can mean asking the vendor about the percentage of post-consumer recycled content in their products, whether their production methods are environmentally friendly (e.g. low water or low energy), or which certifying bodies they work with to have their products declared sustainable.

Consider also giving local vendors priority whenever possible. By maintaining a smaller-range supply chain, you’re reducing transportation and limiting the impact on your environment. This may also present some cost savings.

Lastly, inquire with your equipment vendors to see what your options are when it comes time to retire your machinery or molds. Using equipment past its designated end of life can have negative environmental impact. Once equipment or molds have reached this point, having a disposal plan—or, even better, a recycling plan —ensures that your materials are being properly retired.

Using sustainable packaging to leave a paperless trail

A study published in the peer-reviewed journal Interacting With Computers found that, in a shocking twist, most people tend not to read instruction manuals. An easy sustainability win is to simply eliminate paper collateral altogether.

A certain amount of paper documentation, such as customs forms, is unavoidable. However, supporting documentation like user guides, manuals, and even detailed product information can easily be housed online for the end user to retrieve as needed.

This has the additional advantage of funneling users towards various brand touchpoints such as a website or app. It also allows you to maintain better control of branding on documentation, as changes can be made centrally and rolled out easily in real-time, avoiding the existence of legacy materials.

If your current technology infrastructure allows it, one way of making this transition easier for your customers could be to implement QR codes on boxes or labels to drive the user directly to the documentation they need. One of our clients in the pharmaceutical industry did this over the course of their three-year packaging revamp effort. This decision, along with a commitment to sourcing vendors using certified sustainable materials and a strong focus on use of high-recycle packaging content, made an enormous environmental impact while still maintaining the same or even better quality of packaging their customers had come to trust.

Could you be more sustainable than you think you are?

Trying to revamp your practices to be more sustainable can seem like a daunting task. The good news is: you may be more sustainable than you realize!

Many vendors in North America and in Europe already hold sustainability certifications or have sustainable options that you may not be aware of. A quick query to your vendors should give you a better idea of your position in the sustainability game — not to mention it’s a great opportunity to assess, align and check in on your network of partners, agencies and vendors throughout your rebrand.

You can also chat with your operations team, supply chain partners and environmental services (EVS) department to see what practices are already in place internally for proper EOL management of inventory, machinery, product,  and material.

Auditing and tightening your existing operational oversight and quality assurance processes may also help reduce your environmental impact. Streamlined operations produce less waste. For example, improperly taped products may require repacking with new material and disposal of the existing packaging. Not only does this create waste —it costs more too. From a products standpoint, better quality assurance means fewer nonconforming units to rework or dispose of.

Your more sustainable rebrand

For large asset categories like products and packaging, there are always smart ways of ensuring you’re being as sustainable as you can be. These measures can be as drastic as an overhaul of your entire portfolio, or as unobtrusive as a quick chat with your vendors to clarify their environmental best practices.

Understanding what direction you want to take when it comes to sustainability in your rebrand will help determine which steps are right for you. This will also help set the tone across the entirety of your undertaking and ensure that all your workgroups have the sustainability directives in mind during the course of the rebrand.

Communication, as always, is key. This is true not only for your employees, who should understand the reason behind the change and the effect it will have on their day-to-day lives, but also for consumers who are keen to know what’s changing, why, and how it impacts their purchase —especially if the impact to them is minimal, but the environmental benefit is large.

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