Consumers don't buy sustainable packaging

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February 06, 2013

by Vicki Hamilton


Visitors to this year’s Packaging Innovations Show in Birmingham (27/28 February) will hear a great deal about this topic at the Packaging Innovations Big Packaging Debate – a Question Time-style panel debate in which our very own Stergios Bititisios will be taking part. 

As a designer, I believe that good design can solve a multitude of problems. And as a devout recycler, I’ve always considered that I’m responsible in my choices – opting for recyclable or reuseable packaging materials where available, and complaining loudly about the excess plastic on my Easter egg. 

What I hadn’t realised until pack expert Stergios joined the business, is how much I lied to myself if the sustainable option didn’t speak to some other deeper need – such as quality or luxury. In those circumstances I would switch off the eco-warrior in my head and tell myself that because I separate my rubbish, I wasn’t having an impact on the world. 

And I believed it until I watched a programmed called ‘Indian Ocean’ with adventurer and author Simon Reeve. In one edition, he visits the Maldives – an unspoilt tropical paradise – that is until you get to the rubbish island. Surrounded by mounds of empty plastic water bottles, leaking chemicals  and other household and hotel waste, plus the clouds of flies that go with it, he speaks of an ‘apocalyptic’ island of waste. I was horrified. And then ashamed. It felt more raw in that setting because of the crystal clear beauty it was tainting, but we are running out of landfill here in the UK as well. 

So, here lies the problem – I’m moved by this stuff. I want to choose ethically and sustainably. But I have deeper needs that even I don’t recognise. So what if a coffee manufacturer reduces the weight of its glass jars? If I detect the quality has been compromised on a level I’m not even aware of, I’ll probably switch to another brand. 

MMR advocates involving consumers at all stages of the packaging design process and accessing the emotional and functional conceptualisations that they form around brands and products. Only in this way can manufacturers and pack designers create designs that meet the needs of manufacturers and consumers.  

Sustainability truly needs to be top of agenda for manufacturers, but it’s making changes relevant to consumers that is the real challenge.  

Vicki Hamilton is Marketing Communications Manager at MMR Research Worldwide.