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How consumer awareness is driving brand sustainability

James Murphy, Head of Marketing at Kondor, looks at how consumer demand for eliminating single-use plastic from their packaging has risen and why brands and retailers need to listen up.

Plastic waste has become a hot topic for government, brands, retailers and consumers, fuelled by programmes like the BBC’s Blue Planet II series that clearly demonstrated the damage that it is doing to the environment and possibly human health.

According to Greenpeace, approximately 300 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year with eight to 12 million tons ending up in oceans. They estimate that 80% of plastic waste originates on land, much of it is packaging. The World Economic Forum reported that about 150 million tons of plastic, much of it non-degradable, is floating in our oceans and a UN environmental report stated that only 9% of the world’s nine billion tons of plastic has been recycled. The rest is predominantly in landfills and oceans.

Single-use plastic (SUP) has now become a familiar term with consumers. Research from YouGov showed that 46% of people in the UK feel guilty about the amount of plastic they use with eight out of 10 consumers trying to reduce their plastic waste. Not only are they willing to change their behaviour, they are also willing to pay more so companies can find and use alternatives to SUP.

Sustainability concerns are clearly already influencing customers’ buying choices and consumers are expecting brands to take more responsibility for their packaging. According to an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report, only 14% of the plastic packaging used globally is recycled with many companies not prioritising sustainability when considering the design, use and disposal of packaging with the majority still single-use and non-recyclable.

O2 has been one company quick to recognise the importance of sustainability, specifically in packaging and its associated supply chain. O2 approached Kondor to look at ways of improving its accessory packaging to eliminate the use of SUP and to help educate their customers on how to recycle their packaging. As part of Kondor’s research, we identified that in removing SUP from O2 branded accessories alone, it would save over 974kg of plastic in the first year, which happens to be the weight of nearly 6,000 iPhone X devices. In the redesign, we reduced the actual size of the original packaging, removed SUP, used more sustainable and eco-friendly materials and took the opportunity to educate the end customer on how to recycle. By reducing the dimensions of the packaging, we were able to use less materials and consequently improve the carbon footprint in their transport.

We have been working with our suppliers to source, develop and test biodegradable and fully compostable bags to be used in transit to protect the packaging, which is another big contributor of SUP within the supply chain.

During the entire process, O2 was extremely supportive and receptive to the changes and we are both committed to removing all SUP from O2-branded accessories by the end of this year. As a result of the O2 project, other brands and retailers have started approaching us with the same objective.

Horrifying statistics about the fate of our planet and disturbing images of our plastic filled oceans are widespread across social media and the news. As individuals it can seem like we’re helpless to improve the dire state of our environment, so making more conscious decisions about the products we buy is a great place for many of us to start, reducing our personal environmental impacts and supporting brands that are aligning with our personal values and environmental stance. It will certainly be an interesting period for consumer electronics as traditionally packaging within this category has been lavish with spot UVs, foil, window patches and plastic components, all prevalent to increase the perceived value of the product.

The stripped back, naked packaging approach works with food due to the connotations of organic produce. However, this is very different for technology, and there will be considerable changes required over the coming months and years as consumers adjust their expectations. One thing is for sure, when consumers demand eliminating SUP from their packaging, brands and retailers will have no option other than to respond, which creates a huge opportunity for those who respond the quickest.

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