Nov 12, 2021 4:28:43 AM | 9 Min Read

The Importance of Sustainability for Your Brand’s Packaging & How to Get Started

Posted By Bay Cities
The Importance of Sustainability for Your Brand’s Packaging & How to Get Started

Sustainability and finding ways to protect the planet are priorities for consumers, brands, and retailers alike. Consumers are increasingly looking for brands that offer clean products and are environmentally responsible. One big way you can change your brand’s impact for the better is to invest in your packaging.

The Need for Sustainability in Product Packaging

Recycled, recyclable, rightsized, or reusable packaging isn’t just another trend—investing in sustainable materials and practices for your brand’s packaging as well as other aspects of your business is, well, just good business. Not only are consumers looking to do their part to protect the environment, but they’re looking to brands and retailers to do the same.


Changing Consumer Sentiment Around Sustainability

The state of the environment is a hot topic across news and social media, causing many consumers to look for new ways to lessen their environmental impact. A report from McKinsey found that consumers are more aware that single-use packaging and plastics are not, or cannot be, appropriately recycled, ending up in landfills or our oceans. According to the report, public awareness for packaging waste peaked over the last couple of years—and consumers are looking to see changes in their products’ packaging.

A study by Shorr Packaging found that 67% of consumers think it’s important that products have recyclable packaging, and 54% consider sustainable packaging when they’re shopping. Because of these consumer viewpoints, making a move to sustainable packaging is becoming necessary to retain as well as gain customers.

The Move to More Sustainable Retailers

Consumers aren’t the only ones asking for environmentally-focused packaging and products—retailers are also adapting their practices and requirements for brands to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Let’s take a look at how some retailers are incorporation sustainable initiatives into their needs for brands:

Overview of Retailer Sustainability Requirements


Club retailer Costco has committed to increasing recyclable or compostable packaging and materials in their stores and working towards eliminating the use of less-recyclable materials like styrofoam and PVC.

In addition to using more recycled and compostable materials, Costco also requires that product packaging, including club packaging, be labeled with the proper How2Recycle label to inform consumers and their staff and further ensure appropriate recycling and disposal of materials for packaging.


The Kohl’s department store chain has identified three critical areas for their sustainability initiatives:

  • Climate action
  • Sustainable sourcing
  • Waste & recycling

When it comes to packaging, Kohl’s is looking for How2Recycle labels on packaging and reduced use of plastic and cardboard for packaging. Additionally, the retailer is implementing an icon system to help consumers identify products that meet specific environmentally friendly goals. The icons represent:

  • Sustainably Sourced
  • Water Conscious
  • Cleaner Solutions
  • Organic


The Target retailer has set some high goals for sustainability for their consider sustainable packaging products. Among these goals is eliminating all expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) from Target branded packaging by 2022 and ensuring all paper and cardboard in Target branded packaging comes from sustainably managed forests by 2022. While these requirements don’t apply to brands sold in Target, having similar initiatives and product packaging aligned with sustainable goals will be important to brands looking to start or maintain their partnership with Target.

Target also required How2Recycle labeling on packaging, and they’re focused on “clean” products, implementing a similar icon system to Kohls for their shoppers:

  • Bio-based
  • Non-GMO
  • No Synthetic Fragrance
  • Organic
  • No Artificial Flavors, Colors, or Sweeteners
  • Simple Ingredients
  • Fair Trade
  • Non-toxic

Walmart & Sam’s Club

Supermarket and club retailer giant, Walmart, has committed to three areas of sustainability: Climate, nature, and waste. Their waste goals include zero waste in their U.S. and Canada locations by 2025 and utilizing only recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable packaging for all their private label products by 2025.

Walmart has issued a statement regarding sustainable packaging: All national and private brand suppliers must be in accordance with local, state, and federal laws while also working towards optimal design, responsible sourcing, and recycling.

Incorporating Sustainable Materials Into Your Packaging

Sustainable packaging is essential for the future of your business and the planet. Not only will your brand be more appealing to customers, but retailers require brands to be more environmentally conscious. Let’s get started on making your product’s packaging more sustainable!

What is Sustainable Packaging?

Sustainable packaging is not only a brown cardboard box with “made with 100% recycled material” stamped on the side. There are a few factors that play into sustainability:

  • Sourcing
  • Longevity
  • Recyclability
  • Size

A sustainable package is made of responsibly sourced materials, such as recycled materials or a sustainable forest. The packaging is easy to recycle or reuse while also being the proper size for the product that minimizes excess packing or material.

Examples of Sustainable Packaging Materials

Material is probably the first thing on your mind when it comes to sustainable packaging. Here are just a few types of environmentally-friendly packaging materials:

  • Corrugated cardboard, made from recycled paper products or sourced from sustainable forests
  • Starch-based biomaterial, such as filler made of potato starch instead of polystyrene
  • Plant-based or mushroom-based materials
  • Organic fibers
  • Post-consumer recycled plastics

It’s important to be aware of the full content of your packaging material. For example, some plant-based plastic alternatives still contain petroleum-based plastic filler. Before making a complete switch to new packaging material, make sure it’s meeting the sustainable goals you have for your brand.

Beyond Recycled Materials: Other Sustainability Factors

Like we mentioned above, sustainability isn’t just about the material. Incorporating sustainability includes factors like reusability, recyclability, and reducing material used. Here are some other factors that should weigh into sustainable packaging decisions:


Rightsizing your packaging reduces the amount of material used for packaging, so your products fit “just right” while still being protected from damage or tampering. Ultimately, rightsizing uses less material for your packaging, which saves your brand on material costs, and it can allow for more units to fit on a pallet for transit. You can ship more at once by rightsizing your packaging, potentially reducing overall fuel usage to ship your products.


In line with rightsizing, lightweighting refers to reducing material or using alternative materials to reduce the overall weight of the packaging. Lighter packages can also lead to lower fuel usage and energy costs when products are in transit.


Packaging that can serve a second purpose to consumers is another way to be sustainable. From having sturdy boxes that can be used for storage to including directions for how to refashion packaging for another use, packaging spends more time in use and isn’t immediately discarded or recycled.

Recyclability or Compostability

Sustainable packaging is easy for consumers to recycle or compost. Remember, not all recyclable materials can be easily turned in across every state, meaning recyclable materials can still end up in the regular trash. While it’s difficult to manage every recycling program’s guidelines, consider materials accepted in most programs, like corrugated cardboard.

Don’t Forget Club Packaging

If your products generally ship or are stocked in club packaging, don’t forget about the materials in that extra packaging. Reducing the amount of material or swapping out materials to a more eco-friendly option, and communicating this information on the club packaging for retail staff to recycle appropriately, is an integral part of overall sustainability.

Communicating Sustainable Practices on Your Packaging

When products are packaged in sustainable packaging, it’s important to communicate this information—not just as a marketing point. Half of consumers look to packaging for information about sustainability.

However, label fatigue is something to consider with packaging design and communicating value on pack. Consumers want to understand value without having to scour the label and fine print. One simple way to start with sharing your packaging’s sustainability merit is using labels like How2Recycle or badges from organizations you’ve received certifications in for using recycled material, responsibly sourced materials, or organic materials. These are icons consumers will recognize and understand quickly.

Adding small callouts on your packaging about a reduction in packaging size or a change in materials is another quick way to show that your brand is committed to making a difference in the environment.

Sustainable packaging is the future: consumers are asking for it and some retailers require it. Getting started with a sustainable packaging solution can feel overwhelming, but reducing environmental impact as a brand is possible.

If you’re thinking about changing how your brand does packaging, let’s connect to see how we can help.

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