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How brands can regain consumer confidence amid greenwashing fears over packaging

How brands can regain consumer confidence amid greenwashing fears over packaging

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This Christmas, traditional holiday gift bags and plastic wrappings are no longer the go-to options for consumers when they shop for festive gifts. In fact, with the rise of environmental awareness, consumers have preferred recycled packaging paper and products with less packaging in recent years. 

According to the “Navigating a Greener Future” study by Delta Global, 91% of APAC customers wished luxury brands would stop using plastic wrap in their packaging and over 80% of APAC luxury consumers said they would consider switching to another luxury brand that offers a similar product that uses less packaging.

Don't miss: Survey: Majority of APAC luxury consumers reduce support of brands ignoring sustainability

The survey also revealed that luxury customers across APAC identified a lack of transparency around sustainability initiatives (59%) as their biggest turn-off, followed closely by non-sustainable packaging and the creation of excessive waste (both 58%). 

Another report by Trivium Packaging named 2023 Buying Green Report also revealed that 82% of respondents overall would be willing to pay more for sustainable packaging, up four points from 2022, and eight points since 2021. Younger consumers (18-to-24 year-olds) are even more willing, leading at 90%.  

As Christmas is a time when gift-giving is a prevalent tradition, industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to believed that brands should make use of this festive season to demonstrate their sustainability efforts to consumers.

Robert Lockyer, founder and chief client officer of Delta Global said brands should embrace sustainable packaging in the festive season with notable sustainability initiatives or certifications printed clearly on it.  

Festive periods are incredibly busy for shoppers as they are spoilt with choices, so it can be challenging for brands to cut through the clutter. 

That's why brands should also explore innovative methods to engage consumers more effectively in sustainable packaging, in addition to using renewable, recyclable, and compostable materials for packaging, according to MSL Sustainability, a sustainability arm established by Publicis Groupe's MSL China to strengthen sustainability developments. 

This includes offering discounts to customers who bring their personal cups to establishments such as Starbucks. “Some consumers feel that festive occasions may generate excessive waste. Consequently, they prefer less purchasing and fewer parties as an environmentally sustainable lifestyle choice,” MSL Sustainability added. 

Herbert Pradjaja, associate creative director, Media.Monks took the agency's collaboration with telco brand MI as an example. Last year, the agency helped M1 make a small change to its Christmas activity, which put sustainable wrapping in the hands of its customers.

"The gift tag had seeds embedded so people could grow plants. Not only was it sustainable, but it also added joy to gift-wrapping. Sometimes, small changes make the biggest impact when it comes to sustainability," he added.

Closing the value-action gap for sustainable packaging

However, the cost of going green can impact a company or a brand's ability to have sustainable growth, as consumers may become more price-sensitive in a less favourable economic environment, according to MSL Sustainability. 

“Hence companies will attempt to strike a balance between having environmentally friendly packaging and managing production cost at a price point that is acceptable to the consumers.” 

Agreeing with MSL was Carmen Wu, head of Havas Market Hong Kong, who said price, quality, brand reputation, and convenience tend to rank higher than overall sustainability as buying criteria. "Even within the realm of packaging, factors such as hygiene, shelf life, and convenience often take precedence over environmental considerations," she added.

To overcome the value-action gap, brands must address the fuels and frictions that influence people’s decision-making and offer a product-service where sustainability is integrated into the proposition versus a trade-off that consumers need to pay more just because it is more eco-friendly, said Trezelene Chan, Kantar’s APAC head of sustainability. 

Beyond premium offerings where there is a clear value exchange for the consumer through the sustainable option, brands need to think about mainstreaming options, so that sustainable options are not just a premium, niche option, she added. 

“We need more radical transformation in the different sectors where we have more sustainable choices for Christmas gifting, not just in packaging to reduce the waste but also products-services that are designed with circularity in mind where waste is reduced from production through to the way the consumer uses-interacts with it,” she said. 

How to regain consumer confidence amid greenwashing fears on social media  

While cost considerations may affect a company's ability to embrace sustainability, the issue of trust and transparency remains a critical factor in the successful implementation of green initiatives.

On the consumer front, greenwashing fears are widespread among consumers in APAC, with 60% of consumers reporting encountering false or misleading information about sustainable actions taken by brands, according to Kantar's 2023 Sustainability Index report.  The worst offending sector is social media, 66% of people in APAC believe that brands in this sector share false or inaccurate information regarding their sustainability efforts, the report found.  

Regaining consumer confidence on social media platforms requires brands to prioritise authenticity. Havas Market’s Wu said it is essential for brands to provide accurate and reliable information, and avoid false or misleading claims.  

“By being open and transparent, brands can demonstrate their commitment to providing reliable and trustworthy information to their audience. This can help regain consumer confidence and create a positive perception of the brand on social media platforms,” she said. 

Another way for brands to step up and address social issues associated with social media is to build trust with consumers by establishing brand integrity and connecting with consumers at a human level, said Kantar’s Chan.  

Brands are also advised to provide concrete evidence to support their sustainability claims and ensure that they are grounded in facts such as sharing other industry-recognised accreditations such as B Corp, EcoVadis, and similar certifications, said Delta Global's Lockyer.

"These accreditations provide independent verification of brands' sustainability efforts and can serve as a valuable endorsement of their commitment to responsible business practices," he added.

Meanwhile, Mauro Marescialli, managing director, of MetaDesign China, a creative brand consultancy under Publicis Groupe, said companies and marketers must have a more ethical approach in the way they communicate and engage with consumers, within and beyond social media platforms. 

Before delving into strategies to enhance brand credibility and restore consumer confidence, MSL Sustainability said both brands and PR agencies must engage in self-reflection regarding their current initiatives and their level of commitment to sustainability as well as the practice of being transparent in the traceability of their efforts on their sustainability journey. 

Related articles:

Carlsberg’s sustainable packaging: A toast to consumers’ social consciousness?
Study: Oil majors misleading the public with greenwashing
Watsons Water goes green with sustainable packaging

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