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Is Sustainable Packaging Less of a Priority Thanks to COVID-19?

Tablet top with green and yellow fruits and vegetables.

Some CPG brands are in survival mode due to supply chain limitations. Does this mean brands are less worried about sustainability? How has the industry shifted during the global crisis?

There are a lot of stories that start with “before COVID-19.” One tiny virus seems to have changed every industry initiative, including sustainability packaging efforts by CPG brands. Focusing on the environmental impact of our products just didn’t have the same urgency when we were struggling with supply chain disruption, declining sales, and outright business shut-downs.

CPG packaging sustainability may not have felt important when leadership teams were dealing with short-term economic problems that threatened to shut down operations. However, this wasn’t true for every company. RetailDive reported on some of the sustainability initiatives in play during COVID-19:

  • Walmart partnered with resale brand ThredUp to sell pre-owned clothes, accessories, handbags, and footwear on the Walmart website. 
  • Other retailers such as Gap Inc., Macy’s, and J.C. Penney launched similar sustainability initiatives.
  • Allbirds and Adidas announced their efforts to create a new sports shoe with the lowest possible carbon footprint.

Some organizations, like Amazon, simply never stopped their sustainability efforts, even as they shifted their company into fifth gear to keep up with demand. Kara Hurst, the VP of Worldwide Sustainability, had this to say:

“As always, sustainability still remains a top priority. With air pollution levels dropping because of the global shifts in social distancing behaviors, it offers a glimpse into what a low-carbon future might look like, and a moment to think about this reset.” 

Tablet top with reusable shopping bags and cardboard egg crates.

For organizations that have shelved their sustainability efforts and gone into survival mode, be forewarned: sustainability will make a comeback sooner than you think. For many companies, it never left at all. But for the companies that felt unable to think about single-use plastic straws as they were laying people off, be aware that your primary audience still thinks sustainability in CPG packaging is a criterion for buying a product.

Why Sustainability in CPG Packaging Still Matters

Just because COVID-19 may have sidetracked your business, consumers are still making CPG product purchases based on your brand’s effort to promote sustainability. Deloitte conducted a recent consumer survey that found, despite COVID-19, 43% of consumers continued to select CPG brands that they perceived as environmentally friendly. Paula Rosenblum, Managing Partner of RSR Research, says, “It is time to give serious thought to millennials and Gen Z. And they care a lot more about the environment.”

These customers aren’t going away in the future. They’ll pay closer attention to your future business practices, especially as many companies retool their work-from-home policies in the face of what will likely be a new normal. Employees will likely travel less, and businesses may build their local supply chains. While these may not be labeled as sustainability strategies and more under lessons learned, the reality is that the future of CPG products will incorporate sustainability across the enterprise.

PKG Brand Design is always on the forefront of new CPG branding and packaging initiatives; please subscribe to our blog for the latest package design industry news!

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