If you can’t prove it, don’t say it.

If you can’t prove it, don’t say it.

I spoke at the Sustainable Packaging Forum today – to a room full of folks working hard to make packaging greener — and broke the news that most consumers don’t really care about greener packaging.  I’ve blogged about this before, but it might bear repeating:

  • Consumers get irritated by over-packaging and hard-to-get-into packaging, but those things alone will not dissuade them from buying a product they want.
  • And that’s the key: they buy products, not packages.  So they’re deciding which products to buy based on a whole other set of criteria first – the source, the ingredients, the brand, the price (it varies by product category) – what the product is packaged in carries very little weight in the purchasing decision.
  • Some greener packaging innovations irritate them.  Water bottles that use less plastic are harder to drink from and laundry detergent with paperboard packaging is thought to not be as durable – both of which violate the comfort rule (as in, Americans care way more about their personal comfort than the environment) and could be a purchase deterrent.
  • Though they do look to the packaging to give them the information they need to decide if a product is green, they don’t understand a lot of the jargon printed on packages, like No GMOs, No VOCs, BPA free and even the numbers intended to indicate product recyclability.

So the trick is to make packaging more sustainable in a way that actually makes sense within the context of the brand, and consider it a supporting piece of the overall sustainability story, not THE sustainability story itself.  Scot Case of UL Environment followed my presentation with one about greenwashing and made the excellent point in the headline above:  if you can’t prove it, don’t say it.  He’s exactly right.  Besides the FTC declaring this a no-no, consumers are increasingly looking for proof.  They don’t want to just swallow a green claim…it needs to make sense to them.  And they need to understand the corporate story, too – it’s getting harder for them to believe a product is green if they don’t believe the company that makes the product is green.

So as you’re communicating your sustainability story – whether on packaging or in your advertising – take Scot’s advice and make sure you can back it up.


About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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