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Balancing Sustainability with Other Packaging Trends

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

The issue of sustainability is top-of-mind for both brands and converters. In fact, for some people, it comes first. However, in addition to sustainability, consumer behavior and priorities have an impact on the trends that the packaging industry must balance. The actions that brand and packagers should take are further complicated by the fact that trends frequently clash with one another. Rebecca Marciniak, Partner at Roland Berger, discussed how to balance sustainability and other emerging trends going forward in the fourth session of Esko's Sustainability Series.

The Trend Landscape – Sustainability at the Forefront

Consumer packaging will change as 2023 approaches to become more individual, convenient, and accessible. The importance of sustainability is increasing as brands and packagers work to make the best use of resources while minimizing waste and spoilage. Consumer interest in environmental preservation is higher than ever. Brands are being required by regulations to commit to ambitious sustainability goals. All of this is taking place at the packaging level because packaging generates extra waste that accounts for 8–10% of the overall carbon footprint.

The Catch-22, according to Marciniak, is that while sustainability is concerned with reducing waste, many trends are increasing waste. Why? Consider e-commerce as an illustration. An increase in e-commerce calls for more boxes to be shipped to customers, more packaging of individual items, and more liners to make packaging tamper- and safety-proof. Consumers are also struggling with their consumption habits. They want to conserve the environment while also enjoying the convenience of online shopping. Let's investigate the patterns that emerged.

Health & Wellness

Following COVID-19, consumers are more concerned with their general health and wellbeing. This includes financial, social, emotional, and dietary routines. Consumers are more interested than ever in products that make them feel good. They are deliberately investing more of their money in self-care.

Convenience & Urbanization

Consumers prioritize convenience. Packaging that accommodates consumers' busy lifestyles is in higher demand. To save time packing lunch in the morning, consumers working in urban areas might enjoy food on the go in convenient packaging.

Safety & Protection

It is no secret that there have been several disruptions in the supply chain. Consumers are extremely aware of and concerned about the hygiene of their products in the wake of COVID-19. They demand safe and traceable packaging as a result, so they can be sure the product was shielded during transit and know where it came from.


Customers desire access to variations of the well-known and adored products, such as various flavors and sizes. This results in more SKUs for brands. More packaging is required for suppliers and converters as a result.

Digitalization Balances Conflicting Trends

By offering fresh methods of engagement, expanding connectivity, and generating more data, new technologies improve consumer interaction. The production of packaging waste can be balanced out by using digital solutions. Let's return to the e-commerce illustration. E-commerce sales are constantly increasing. In fact, it is anticipated that they will increase by 14% annually, reaching 1.6 trillion by 2025. In the same year, many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies made a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint by changing the materials used in their packaging. This will take the form of using recycled and renewable materials to reduce emissions and the overall need for packaging.

So, how does technology assist businesses in striking a balance between consumer trends and sustainability initiatives? Roland Berger suggests that businesses should concentrate on the following using the STEP Framework:

  1. Sustainability and the circular economy emphasize minimizing waste, using resources wisely, and recycling and reusing materials from the past for the benefit of the present (a closed loop system)

  2. New technologies to enable more connectivity, data, and interactions are part of technology and digitalization.

  3. Individualization, ecommerce, sustainability, safety and protection, and end-consumer focus and preferences are important market trends.

  4. For performance-driven organizations, there is a growing need to create reliable supply chains with aggressive cost policies that use a high degree of automation.

The transition to a closed loop business model is the focus of the STEP framework. Implementing technological innovation is necessary to accomplish this effectively. Sustainable packaging will be possible with new technologies. According to Roland Berger, businesses must incorporate the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), big data, and cloud analytics in the future even though they are currently concentrating on automating and connecting their processes. All of this fits into the framework as businesses work to create a greener future that satisfies consumer demands.


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