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Sustainable packaging helps drive superior product experience

Procter & Gamble’s Responsible Beauty approach focuses on delivering superior consumer experience and value with sustainable packaging playing a key role.

Head and Shoulders BARE

Procter & Gamble’s Responsible Beauty division leads with consumer delight to create more sustainable packaging options that deliver a superior experience, like the Head & Shoulders BARE bottle, made with 45% less plastic. Image courtesy of Procter & Gamble.

This article is sponsored by Procter & Gamble.

When it comes to sustainability, there is widespread recognition that it holds utmost importance. However, achieving sustainability entails navigating a complex interplay of considerations, including consumer experience, operational efficiency and regulatory compliance. Contrary to popular belief, pursuing sustainability does not necessarily mean compromising on any of these fronts. Instead, it presents an opportunity to rise to the challenge and devise solutions that address multiple objectives simultaneously.

In addition to the inherent value of products themselves, packaging plays a pivotal role in satisfying and even delighting consumers. It serves as a tangible embodiment of a brand's identity and has significant influence on the overall consumer experience. However, packaging also contributes to a substantial flow of materials, with a regrettable portion ultimately ending up in landfills. This makes it an important focal point for driving sustainable innovation and a crucial area where noteworthy improvements can be made.

The balance between consumer satisfaction and the well-being of the planet

An additional challenge is that enhancing sustainability is meaningful only if people embrace and use the sustainable alternatives. Ultimately, people are more likely to use products that they find appealing and enjoyable. 

Let's consider the example of replacing plastic straws with paper ones: The environmental advantages of such a switch are evident. However, how many individuals truly relish the experience of using paper straws enough to actively request them? From an uncompromising standpoint, it may seem acceptable if people refrained from using straws altogether. But, for businesses that rely on packaging their products, the option of "none" is simply not feasible. Instead, they must seek solutions that strike a balance between consumer satisfaction, practical manufacturing and the well-being of the planet. While this poses a greater challenge, the potential rewards are far more significant.

Discovering the ideal balance is a goal that resonates with most consumers. They desire products that perform well and come in packaging that is both practical and environmentally friendly. However, achieving this equilibrium is not the responsibility of consumers; it lies with the manufacturers. The challenge begins early in the process. Companies need to conduct thorough research and develop a deep understanding of their customers and their desires. This research must be an ongoing, cyclical process that incorporates real-world feedback. Additionally, incorporating packaging innovations, including sustainable materials, should be an integral part of the design process from the very beginning, rather than an afterthought.

Multiple approaches to more sustainable packaging: 
  • Molecular recycling Exciting advancements are being made on the Post–Consumer Recycling front. One such frontier is molecular (or advanced) recycling. Traditional plastic recycling methods involve shredding or melting the material to create new shapes, often mixed with new or "virgin" plastic. Through this process, there are limitations to how many times a given piece of material can be reused before it degrades. Furthermore, additional virgin material is required at each step. In contrast, new molecular recycling processes break down polymers into their monomer state or basic building blocks, allowing them to be repurposed as if they were new. This creates a circular process where materials can theoretically be used indefinitely without ending up in landfills.

Procter & Gamble’s Herbal Essences brand has partnered with Eastman, a materials science company, to use its Eastman Renew molecular recycling process in the production of bottles for P&G hair care products. Currently, half of the material used in New Herbal Essences Pure Plant Essences bottles comes from molecular recycled plastics.

  • Using less material Another approach that contributes to sustainability in consumer packaging is "lightweighting," which involves using less material in each bottle. P&G’s implementation of this approach in the packaging for Head & Shoulders' BARE anti-dandruff shampoo comes in a fully recyclable Ecobottle that uses 45 percent less plastic than Head & Shoulders regular 370mL bottle. Additionally, a surprisingly flexible design allows consumers to easily roll up the bottle and dispense every last drop. 
  • Premium glass packaging Not every sustainability advancement in packaging requires advanced science or sophisticated mold flow analysis. Sometimes, applying age-old wisdom can be effective. For its new Super Serum, Olay found a way to prevent hundreds of thousands of small plastic bottles from entering the waste stream by using glass bottles instead. This familiar and recyclable material enhances consumer satisfaction due to its premium appearance, tactile appeal and attractive presence on countertops. Designing a premium glass package, rather than a plastic glass-like package, drove a superior consumer experience while enabling recyclability.  
Packaging innovation as a way to increase accessibility 

Apart from decreasing waste, innovation can also enhance the appeal of packaging for consumers in other ways. Consider the challenge of differentiating shampoo bottles from conditioner bottles, particularly for individuals with visual impairments. To better serve millions who have no or low vision, P&G has implemented raised tactile markings on some of its bottles to differentiate them. While there is not yet a universal standard for tactile markings, P&G is collaborating with industry partners to expand this practice and help drive consistency for low- and no-vision consumers.  

To help navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow and achieve consistent progress, it is critical to employ systems thinking. To this end, P&G Beauty uses a framework called Responsible Beauty, which is a total systems approach that recognizes the interdependence of five key aspects of product development: Quality & Performance, Safety, Sustainability, Transparency and Equality, Inclusion & Wellbeing. Our commitment is to be a positive force for beauty in the world, and to create a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient future for all. To that end, we openly share the Responsible Beauty approach at https://us.pg.com/responsible-beauty/.  

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