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Communicating sustainability authentically: a challenge – but also a great opportunity

Communicating sustainability authentically: a challenge – but also a great opportunity

Recently, we took a closer look at greenwashing in another article. This time, we would like to take a look at the opposite – at truly sustainable packaging and brands that practice sustainability but have not yet managed to communicate this clearly and authentically. Precisely because of the problem of “greenwashing,” this is a challenging issue, but it also holds a great opportunity: the chance to distinguish oneself from competitors with honest creativity.

How can you make your “green” philosophy clear?

The sustainability trend has left visible traces on numerous packages. But as we already explained in our article on greenwashing, by no means everything that does green is actually green – to put it somewhat bluntly. On the contrary, most supposedly green-minded brands take advantage of the trend to increase their sales and turnover; they consciously accept that they are deceiving consumers.

Apart from the fact that such an approach is anything but fair to consumers (and ultimately not very smart either – keyword informed consumer), it also has consequences for those brands that act in a truly sustainable manner: If everyone pretends to be green, the difficulty of making it clear to consumers that they themselves do not belong to the “greenwashing faction” but are actually implementing sustainability increases.

It takes more than the obvious

Let’s take a look at what the most obvious forms of communication for sustainable packaging are: Green color immediately evokes associations with naturalness and environmental friendliness in consumers. So, per se, it is certainly a good tool – but due to its almost inflationary use, it is simply no longer sufficient. The same applies with regard to background graphics in a paper look, which are also often used, supplemented by a few images of nature such as grasses, trees and/or flowers.

Informed as the modern consumer is, the sole use of these two popular design tools can soon lead to the latter being associated with greenwashing rather than true naturalness and sustainability. This is not to say that you should avoid green paint and paper graphics on your packaging – we just suspect that these solutions will no longer suffice due to the greenwashing issues that have long been publicly known and frequently mentioned.

Seals are very good and important, but….

One of the best ways to authentically communicate your brand’s sustainable strategy on packaging is to successfully undergo the audits of recognized institutes and then display their seals. Especially if you can show several trustworthy seals on the topics of sustainability and environmental protection, it shows the consumer that you mean business.

But no brand wants to design its packaging with seal icons alone. This means that the labels have to be integrated into the design in such a way that they are visible without taking up half the available print area – a not entirely simple undertaking that demands a great deal of creativity from the designers.

An individual and holistic approach is the solution

Individual and holistic – at first glance, this sounds contradictory. But on closer inspection, it becomes clear that the adjectives are not mutually exclusive, but rather complement each other perfectly.

Individual: It is important to analyze in detail exactly what the sustainable philosophy and strategy of the brand in question look like and how these characteristics can be optimally conveyed in the packaging. What are the specific performance goals of the brand?

Holistic: With all the focus on sustainability that is currently prevalent: a product packaging is of course still much more than just a surface for displaying the green brand characteristics. For this reason, all aspects that characterize and distinguish the brand and should therefore be shown to advantage on the packaging must be included in the development of a new packaging design. The holistic approach also refers to the design of the packaging itself – its visual and haptic properties, which also include the shape and material, for example.

Summary and conclusion

Sustainability is on everyone’s lips and is significant for our environment. Therefore, companies that live sustainability should also communicate this on their packaging, among other things. However, not least because of the greenwashing problem, there is no simple solution for making one’s own green actions visible. Depending on the respective sustainable approach and the specific performance goals of the brand, the ideal type of presentation must be found. This can only be achieved with an individual and holistic approach that gives equal consideration to all important details.

We basically work according to this principle and help companies to distinguish themselves from competitors with their packaging design and to authentically communicate their sustainable philosophy without neglecting the presentation of other unique selling points. Our credo is: good preparation – i.e. a thorough brand and market analysis – and an open mind usually result in innovative, creative ideas. And these, in turn, suddenly transform the challenge into an opportunity to set yourself apart with your own packaging and set new standards.

About Berndt+Partner Creality
As a global agency for brand and packaging design and innovation for food, non-food and OTC products in the fast moving consumer goods sector, we present the latest trends, news and insights from the packaging industry. Our interdisciplinary team with an experience of more than 1,000 projects in over 20 years keeps you up to date.
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