Canadian Packaging

Can packaging be both luxurious and sustainable?

Guest article by Ian Lifshitz, North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group.


March 10, 2015
by Ian Lifshitz, North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group

There is a growing focus in the packaging industry on producing environmentally sustainable products. Increasingly, consumers, and therefore retailers, are demanding the items they purchase have as little impact on the environment as possible. Ultimately this means packaging that is sourced and made from more sustainable materials—and less packaging in general.

For everyday packaging needs, this can be a challenge that becomes even more pronounced when it comes to more expensive goods. Prestige brands and their customers have sometimes been regarded as more concerned about the appearance than about eco-friendliness, despite the shift towards environmentally-minded packaging.

While consumers may be more environmentally conscious, many still expect packaging to be impressive when they are purchasing a ‘luxury’ item.

Is it possible then for the packaging industry to create sustainable luxury packaging?

From cosmetics to confectionery, the entire basis of these products is centered on multi-material packaging that contributes to the overall feeling of ‘luxury’. Therefore, much of this type of packaging includes metalized plastic, metalized glass and many other types of materials which, while connoting quality and expense, are very difficult, if not impossible, to recycle and can have a high environmental impact during sourcing and production.

With these issues in mind, a number of manufacturers are actively developing more sustainable solutions for this market segment and as a result there are a number of simple solutions that manufacturers can take to satisfy both the demands of “luxurious” and “sustainable”.

This can include using fewer ink colours or focusing on the weight and whiteness levels of the board to support standout design.
As well, minimalistic high quality packaging can be utilized to convey the required luxury effect.  We often see this in the food and drink sector especially with high-end products often adopting a stripped back feel – which often emphasizes the provenance of the food within. Newfoundland, Canada-based Main Brook Waterworks Inc. is a good example with their 375- and 750-mL Bellisima flint glass bottles for their Naeve-brand Iceberg water (see image above).

Of course the solution isn’t always as straightforward as a simplified design with high-end materials. Luxury food and drink packaging represents its own challenge. The packaging materials that can be used are limited to ensure freshness and to comply with health and safety requirements, while also finding a balance between underpackaging and overpackaging. Underpackaging can result in increased food waste while overpackaging is more resource intensive. Getting the balance wrong either way will have a negative impact on the environment. The key here lies in innovation of the materials that can be used and in finding more sustainable ways to develop them.

Many companies are taking measures to make their entire manufacturing process, from supply chain to store shelf, more sustainable. Reducing the environmental impact of the process is a move in the right direction and by using fewer resources and less energy to produce packaging, manufacturers can effectively do more with less and save money in the process.

Reducing the amount of packaging materials where possible, using the most visually appealing high quality recyclable materials such as paper, paperboard and metals, and exploring opportunities to make the manufacturing process more energy efficient is certainly possible in order to make luxury packaging more sustainable.

Over time we may come to see ‘luxury’ packaging as that which focuses on efficient use of packaging, chooses materials that are lightweight, sustainably sourced, recyclable and, when combined with great design, offer good product protection, transport efficiency and shelf appeal.

In some cases, getting there will be a much easier process than others, but often the answer lies in not over-complicating the process, but in thinking outside the traditional box, so to speak.

Ian Lifshitz is North American director of sustainability & stakeholder relations at Asia Pulp and Paper Group (APP), the world’s second largest pulp & paper company. To learn more about APP’s community initiatives and sustainability efforts, visit the website at www.asiapulppaper.com.