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Sustainable packaging features

Based on which features do consumers decide if a package is sustainable? We wanted to gain insight into this, and outline our findings in this blog. The most remarkable discovery? Consumers cannot recognize the most sustainable package without visual clues. Therefore, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of making the reduced environmental impact visible in the packaging design.

Economic and ecological benefits

Packaging is a driving force in our modern society with many benefits. However, there are many concerns about packaging problems such as litter and microplastics that cause health problems and the plastic soup in the oceans. That's a shame, because the right packaging solutions are available, but have yet to be implemented. When sustainable solutions are used, the packages can be produced more cheaply compared to companies that handle them carelessly. Because the packages are designed to stack efficiently, transportation costs and inventory space are reduced. Weight and volume are also reduced, thereby lowering material costs. In addition to these economic benefits, the positive effects of sustainable packaging on the environment are well known. For example, less plastic is used, there is less waste production and CO2 emissions are reduced. We could go on and on, as there are many more...

New trend of environmental conscious consumers

It is a well-researched fact that consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable packaging (Ouwehand, 2021). Ultimately, we all want to do something good for the environment, and then buying sustainably is a good step. This brings opportunities for companies to implement eco-friendly packaging.

However, previous studies have shown that environmentally conscious consumers are not always able to recognize sustainable packaging. They rely on visual indications to determine whether a package is sustainable. These visual indicators include, for example: materials used, color, size, weight or presence of an eco-label. If there are no visual indications or falsely claimed indications consumers cannot recognize and thus choose the most sustainable packaging. This will hinder further sustainable improvements.

But what features of a package make it appear eco-friendly?

If the consumer is not able to estimate the eco-friendliness of a packaging, it won't be able to choose the most sustainable option. Therefore, it is interesting to have a look at what features influence this eco-friendly appearance. Because the consumers perspective is recognized as influential (Prendergast, 1996; Silayoi, Speece, 2004).

Packaging features such as weight, color and material could possibly enhance the environmental friendly appearance. Where in the past a white cardboard colored packaging provided a premium appearance, the eco-look is now popular. The eco-look often entails the use of brown cardboard materials.

#1 Presence of certified ecolabel

Research by Zero Packaging has shown that a certified ecolabel has the greatest impact on a more durable look. Where there are two most common categories for ecolabels: an independent certified label awarded based on the fulfillment of a set of eco-friendly criteria or self-declared environmental claim a company appropriates (Pancer, McShane, Noseworthy, 2017). While both can convey the same sustainable message, a certified label has a significantly higher impact, consumers recognize the independent party and have more faith in the claim.

#2 Type of material used

Another strong indicator is the material used. Where plastics are seen as not environmentally friendly. So in the design you can think of the omitting of unnecessary plastic parts and using paper or strong cardboard instead.

What is the effect of reducing weight and volume on the eco-friendly appearance?

A remarkable outcome from our research is that weight and volume can be considered as the strongest objective environmental indicator, but consumers do not recognize them as sustainable indicators. A reduction in weight or volume reduces the amount of materials used. This leads to more efficient transportation, which reduces emissions during transportation. Yet this is not recognized by consumers without further visual indications on the packaging.

Thus, to implement further sustainable improvements, the biggest challenge lies in designing sustainable-looking packaging.


Interesting? Wondering how to realize your sustainable packaging?

Then do not hesitate to contact us. Together we will determine which sustainable packaging solution is best suited for your products.



Ouwehand, C. (2021). Kidv – Consumentengedrag.

Prendergast, G., & Pitt, L. (1996). Packaging, marketing, logistics and the environment: Are there trade- offs? International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 26, 60-72.

Herbes C, Beuthner C, Ramme I. (2020). How green is your packaging—A comparative international study of cues consumers use to recognize environmentally friendly packaging. Int J Consum Stud. 2020;44:258–271.

Pancer, E., McShane, L. & Noseworthy, T.J. (2017). Isolated Environmental Cues and Product Efficacy Penalties: The Color Green and Eco-labels. J Bus Ethics 143, 159–177.


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