Eco-Consistency: The Cure for Eco Skepticism

Eco-Consistency: The Cure for Eco Skepticism

Whether you are a green-minded retailer selling to eco-conscious consumers or a packaging supplier as I am, selling to green-minded retailers and wholesalers, we all have a serious credibility problem.

Years ago I participated in a class that I believe stated quite accurately, the only way trust can be regained in a damaged relationship is through uncompromising, consistent, positive behavior over a prolonged period of time. I cannot help but notice the way that simple yet profound advice applies so well to sustainability in general and specifically to sustainable packaging.

Recent surveys by countless organizations, marketers and pollsters indicate that consumers are overwhelmed by "green noise," which often leads to "green paralysis.” Confused by a massive amount of conflicting information and skeptical of the often exaggerated or outright dishonest claims various companies make, they frequently elect to do nothing. We use this eco-confusion as the basis to create the popular cartoon character named "Eco Ed," who appears monthly in Packaging World magazine. Ed is the person in all of us who sincerely wants to do the right thing but is often unsure what the right thing is. I have to admit, even though I am in the "business of green," I can at times relate to poor, confused Ed.
Eco Ed green detergent comic
Who Can Blame the Consumer?

After all, for years we have been designing and shipping out packaging with absolutely no regard for the environment. We have manufactured, sold, and encouraged the use of excessive amounts of some of the nastiest materials known to mankind. And after this long history of environmentally destructive behavior, we are suddenly putting a green slant on almost every packaging solution we offer, asking consumers to trust us as providers of solutions certain to save planet earth.

It's understandable why many consumers are not sure who they should believe and what they can do to correct the environmental damage we have created. I think we have some serious work to do before we can expect consumers to trust us again.

Eco-Consistency through Secondary Packaging

People who know me and my company are aware that we focus on secondary packaging: the boxes, tapes, labels, void fill and other materials designed to get a product to or from a distribution center, retail store or in some cases to the consumer via a pick and pack or fulfillment operation.  

While the rest of the packaging world seems focused on headline grabbing, eye catching, retail and primary packaging - which I admit is infinitely more interesting and perhaps even glamorous by comparison - we apply our efforts and resources to the rather boring products that often go unnoticed and fly under the sustainable packaging radar.  

Why Secondary Packaging Matters

First and foremost, secondary packaging creates the first impression of you, your product and your company. We like to say, “Secondary packaging is the last thing on your mind but the first thing your customer sees”, because it's true.

The second reason it deserves more attention than it receives is because in most cases secondary packaging is unmanaged even though it is very controllable. Since most of the shipper's time and energy goes into what is inside the box, the cost of the box and other related expenses such as labor, tape, void fill, etc. often go unnoticed.

There are many other reasons why secondary packaging should be of greater concern but my favorite, especially when speaking to a green audience, is that secondary packaging is usually greater in terms of volume and weight than the primary packaging it contains. Environmentally concerned retailers and designers focus on what ends up on the shelf, rather than what it took to get it there. Ironic, isn't it?

What is Eco-Consistency?

Simply put, eco-consistency is making sure we are green throughout our products and processes. Top to bottom, front to back, beginning to conclusion, or any other way you want to put it, we cannot pick and choose when and where we are green. If we hope to regain the trust of our customers, we need to focus on that uncompromising, consistent behavior it is going to take to get us there.

This is especially true in a fulfillment operation where green companies send out some of the newest, greenest products ever designed, in some equally green primary packaging, but then drop the ball just a few yards short of the end zone. We often see them ship their award winning green product and package in the same not-very-eco-friendly secondary packaging that was being used a few decades ago when protecting the environment was just the concern of a very small minority of consumers. Their box, tape, void fill and outer packaging are virtually identical to what was being produced and used 30 years ago. Not very eco-consistent, is it, especially when good quality and price competitive alternatives are readily available?  

Remember the Green Consumer!

I'm afraid this is not a battle cry but rather more of a warning or at the very least a reminder. We cannot forget that green-minded customers tend to be distrustful of companies and always skeptical of green products and green claims. That market, which we aspire to grow in, scrutinizes every potential purchase, looking for the very eco-inconsistencies that we unintentionally build into our packaging.

As the economy weakens and profits tighten, and as competition grows and becomes more desperate, we can ill afford to relax our standards or make compromises. The advice I shared above emphasizes positive behavior over a prolonged period of time, and that advice holds even in tough times like these. Perhaps now it applies even more.

Dennis Salazar is the president of Salazar Packaging Inc.