The demand for sustainability has no less than revolutionised the way companies do business. In the last decade, the move towards sustainable products, waste solutions and emissions reductions has forced businesses to pursue purpose over profits, leading the way to a new and positive form of conscious capitalism.
The call for sustainable packaging has been one of the strongest demands of our sustainability goals, forcing us to turn away from the abundant plastics embraced by older generations. While recyclable materials and a shift away from single-use plastic is nothing new, emerging models for addressing unsustainable packaging offer an exciting glimpse of the future.
Diageo, the company behind alcohol brands such as Smirnoff, Guinness and Captain Morgan, created a 100% paper-based bottle for Johnnie Walker whiskey that it plans to use at scale. Furthermore, Diageo has publicly committed to reducing 100,000 tonnes of plastic packaging from their product lines by 2025. In 2021, the vodka maker Absolut also conducted trials of paper-based bottles for its pre-mixed carbonated drinks, and beer company Carlsberg is in the process of doing the same.
For their part, Coca-Cola have been testing paper bottles in recent years as part of a longer-term bid to eliminate plastic from its packaging entirely and produce zero waste by 2030. The bottles are produced by a Danish company named Paboco and initial trials have been so successful that competitors such as Pepsi and Nestle have been inspired to follow suit with their own paper-based packaging.
Looking outside the beverage industry, Unilever announced similar plans in June 2021 to introduce paper bottles for its OMO product range by 2023. This will be a world first for laundry detergents packaging in this format.
Beyond replacing traditional packaging formats with more environmentally friendly alternatives, a number of companies have gone back to the drawing board with a fundamental re-think of product formats in the interests of sustainability. For instance, Procter and Gamble announced plans to roll out refillable aluminum shampoo bottles which can be replenished in store – a massive change in their business model.
In an even more audacious example of a product format re-think, consider the example of a personal care brand named Plus. Recognising that 90% of the volume of body wash is water, the Plus team decided to dispense with water and the bottle entirely. Their solution is a dehydrated sachet that instantly foams up when it comes into contact of water and completely dissolves after use. 
According to Plus’s co-founders Julie Schott and Brian Bordainick this new approach results in 80% fewer carbon emissions than the manufacture and shipping of traditional body wash products.
While a move away from plastics in packaging is inherently positive, even the nature of plastic is rapidly changing in ways that make it far less environmentally harmful. A team of researchers at Yale, for instance, have developed a new durable bioplastic that can degrade entirely in three months. This will be ideal for improving the sustainability of products and packaging that will always require the use of plastic for functional reasons. The Yale team’s bioplastic is manufactured using wood powder typically produced as a by-product at lumber mills. In addition to being able to degrade, the material can also be returned to its original form and be reused.
“The growing push towards sustainability represents an enormous opportunity for those who are willing to embrace the trend.”
System level change is also in the wings when it comes to consumer goods sustainability. A case in point is the Loop initiative which offers a ‘milkman’ model of deposit and return for product containers. The creators of Loop, a company named TerraCycle announced audacious plans for global expansion on the back of new partnerships with the likes of Unilever and P&G.
In September 2021, UK grocery giant Tesco also launched a partnership with Loop which will make zero waste consumption available to millions of customers over time. As a sign of how significant this move is, company modelling suggests that if customers at 10 Tesco stores were to switch just three products to using Loop in their weekly shop, the packaging would be used and reused more than two-and-a-half million times a year. That’s an enormous amount of landfill being prevented and environmental good being done.
Promoting the Environmental Cause to Customers
Beyond using more sustainable materials, packaging itself can be used to further promote environmental causes to customers themselves. One inspiring example of helping customers to make considered decisions is the Belgian supermarket chain Färm which has begun labelling every product on its shelves with a sustainability grade called ‘färmoscore.’ This rating is based on 11 criteria including whether the product is organic, locally owned, produced using local ingredients and low in resource consumption.
While the growing push towards sustainability is often viewed as an economic threat to established businesses and industries, it also represents an enormous opportunity for those who are willing to embrace the trend. Over half (57%) of consumers saying they are willing to change their shopping habits “to help reduce negative environmental impact,” according to a study from the National Retail Federation. This is especially true for younger consumers. Research indicates that 73% are willing to pay more for sustainably sourced products – a number that will only increase in the coming years.
Embracing sustainable options is a win/win. Gone are the days of having to choose between economic viability and environmental sustainability. Businesses are uncovering innovative ways of reworking their packaging in order to solve the problems facing our environment, and in doing so they are attracting customers. Making these sustainable moves is, by every measure, a ‘package deal’.
 Magloff, L. 2020, ‘Paper whisky bottle brings sustainable packaging to adult beverage sector’, Springwise, 29 July.
 2021, ‘Coca Cola company trials first paper bottle,’ BBC, 12 February.
 2021, ‘Coca Cola company trials first paper bottle,’ BBC, 12 February.
 2021, ‘Unilever to switch to paper bottles for detergent, starting in Brazil,’ Trend Watching, 15 June.
 2021, ‘What The Omnichannel Grocery Store Trip Of The Future Will Look Like,’ CB Insights, 21 April.
 Toussaint, K. 2021, ‘Zero-waste body wash Plus comes in dissolvable packaging,’ FastCompany, 13 April.
 Flora, L. 2021, ‘Starface founders launch waterless personal care brand Plus,’ Glossy, 13 April.
 Basciano, S. 2021, ‘Bioplastic that can degrade entirely in 3 months,’ Springwise, 2 April.
 2020, ‘Refillable bottles of cleaning & personal care products, delivered by bike in Amsterdam’, Trend Watching, 18 December.
 Culliney, K. 2021, ‘Tesco extends Loop partnership: CEO says reuse could be game-changing,’ Cosmetics Design Europe, 13 September.
 2021, ‘How rising ecommerce plays are competing against Amazon,’ CB Insights.
 Curtin, M. 2018, ‘73 Percent of Millennials Are Willing to Spend More Money on This 1 Type of Product’, Inc, 30 March.
Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.
About the Author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.