Packaging is a big topic in sustainability and product management. Regarding sustainability, the fact that packaging creates 20-36% of municipal solid waste, makes it an interesting topic. Regarding product management packaging serves several different functions. Going along the supply chain of products, packaging has the following functions:
Usually a packaging system is used to facilitate transportation. This means, there is a primary, secondary and tertiary packaging. For orange juice, the primary package is the 1-liter-carton that contains the orange juice. The secondary package is a bigger carton that contains twelve 1-liter-cartons. The tertiary package is the pallet on which the orange juice cartons are loaded. The more products fit into e.g. one truck-load, the more cost-effective is the packaging. In particular in retailing, which is characterized by very small margins, cost-effective packaging is important. At the same time, in the light of sustainability, reducing transportation by full truck-loads is favorable.
As customers nowadays are very keen on getting cosmetically-perfect products, packaging has to provide the goods from any damages during transportation. For example, apples are often wrapped in paper and plastic to prevent damage. Thus, packaging has to ensure the quality.
Once the products have arrived in the shop, packaging has to fulfill further functions. Initially, the attention of the customer strolling by has to be caught. In a supermarket, products are in direct competition with their shelf neighbors. Color, size and design have to differentiate it from competing products, although the product itself might be the same.
If the attention of the customer is caught, he will take the product and start reading the information on the package. Thus, the packaging also has to inform the customer.
Finally, packaging portions the product, e.g. apples packaged in bundles of six. Different portioning will appeal to different customer groups and it might increase sales. Even if customers intended to buy only four apples, they will be induced to buy six now.
To induce sustainable packaging, the question is what benefits does sustainable packaging provide for companies and for customers?
The major advantage for companies is cost-reduction, which can be achieved by reducing the amount of material used for packaging. At the same time this is an advantage for customers as the amount of packaging they have to carry home is decreased.
Changing the packaging to a more sustainable one can also add benefits for the customer. Hence, the product’s convenience is increased.
However, these steps might be taken on by companies because it is the easy option compared to changing the core product. Of course, sustainable packaging reduces the environmental impact, but it might be negligible in comparison to the product’s impact. In this context, packaging can be easily used to green-wash by “hidden trade-off”.
In conclusion, I would assume that packaging provides potential for a win-win situation for customers and companies. However, packaging is only one aspect of a product and does not replace a sustainable core product