Do you remember the time when we all knew for sure that plastic is evil and paper bags are the solution to make mother nature smile upon us?
I do and honestly sometimes I wish life would still be that simple. In this more and more complex world it would be so nice to have at least one area where we knew exactly the one right way to go about it.
Well, sadly sustainable packing of cosmetics and skin care (but really any product out there) isn’t one of those… But let’s start from the beginning.
2. Why is packaging important…
Without packaging there wouldn’t be a beauty industry as we know it. Packaging for cosmetic and skincare products serves several crucial purposes.
First of all, it helps protect the products from contamination, light, air, and temperature variations, which can degrade the product’s quality and efficacy.
Let’s say you have created a fantastic product but didn’t pay attention to proper packaging. For this reason the product is exposed to air, dust, and microorganisms, leading to contamination. The result: A growth of bacteria, mold, or other pathogens, making the product unsafe for use and potentially harmful to the skin.
Imagine the damage to your brand the moment social media finds out your product caused infections, allergic reactions or skin irritations of your customers. Not good.
Beyond this, packaging has other uses too. It provides vital information to consumers, including ingredient lists, usage instructions, and safety warnings, ensuring safe and informed usage.
People on average use 6 products daily for body care, 1 to 3 for skin care, 2 for cosmetics/beard, 1 to 2 for hair care, and one for baby care. That is quite a number of different products in a bathroom. If not packaged properly how else would you know to use and differentiate between them?
Last but not least there is of course a marketing aspect to packaging of products.
Aesthetically pleasing and well-designed packaging can enhance the product’s market appeal, helping it stand out on store shelves and effectively communicate the brand’s image and values to potential customers.
Remember the last time you unboxed a pleasingly heavy lipstick or how you slowly opened the drawer box of your favorite fragrance celebrating a little moment of luxury? This little spark of joy is part of the magic of great packaging.
…and why is it so complicated you might ask?
Buzzkill alert – it turned out to be quite damaging to the environment and a solution was needed.
Sustainable packaging gained significant attention and momentum in the late 20th century and early 21st century. The trend not only emerged due to growing environmental concerns but also because of increased awareness of the impacts of waste and plastic pollution, and a shift in consumer preferences towards eco-friendly products.
Now one could say „Ok, we know the problem, let’s solve it with sustainable packaging“ but that is exactly where it gets complicated. Because as of now (November 2023) there is no agreed upon definition of what sustainable packaging really means. There is no single global body or institution that regulates sustainable packaging of products in the same way that regulatory bodies oversee safety or labelling requirements for example.
There is no single global body or institution that regulates sustainable packaging
So when a brand is involved in the process of choosing packaging for their products there are only few requirements (usually related to packaging waste, recycling dictated by national governments and labelling) and almost no guidance on sustainable solutions.
As a result each cosmetic and skincare brand – no matter how big or small – has to come up with its own interpretation of sustainable packaging and unique approaches to addressing it. With no set regulations those interpretations can greatly vary, confusing customers and creating room for green-washing and malpractice.
Manufacturers in the packaging industry are working tirelessly to find the best solutions but often end up adding to the confusion. We recently went to Monaco for Luxe Pack, a global trade show dedicated to premier packaging. We saw a huge focus on sustainable packaging but there isn’t one clear message on the best practice.
We talked to several different suppliers and each of them is convinced that either glass, recycled plastic, paperboard, wood, metal or biodegradable and compostable materials are the best sustainable packaging solution. But which one is really the best option?
Is glass the solution?
Let us give you an example by looking closer into glass. It is often considered environmentally friendly for several reasons: Recyclability, non-toxic, inert and has a great durability. Generally glass also has a very good image. However, some challenges to the view of glass as super environmentally friendly include:
Energy-intensive production: The manufacturing of glass involves high energy consumption, particularly in the melting and forming processes, which can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
Weight and transportation costs: Glass packaging is heavier than alternatives like plastic, leading to higher transportation costs and emissions.
Fragility: Glass is fragile and can break, leading to product loss and potential safety hazards during handling, transportation, and disposal.
Limited recycling infrastructure: While glass is highly recyclable, the actual recycling rate can be limited in regions with inadequate recycling infrastructure, reducing its environmental benefits.
You get the idea. We can go on like this for any of the materials listed above.
At this moment in time we simply don’t know exactly what really has the biggest positive impact when it comes to sustainable packaging.
It is a complex and evolving field with multiple stakeholders, including governments, industry associations, NGOs, and consumers. They are influencing and shaping sustainable packaging practices currently and we are positive that over time there will be eventually proven standards and guidelines for sustainable packaging globally.
Meanwhile we have established a little sustainable packaging think tank within Mind the Beauty. We make it a priority to be on top of the latest studies, trends and expert opinions to be able to consult our clients the best possible way. Today we share a few of our insights and try to shed some light on a topic that in our opinion needs some special attention.
3. How to find the right packaging for beauty brands: Things to consider when sustainability moves to the forefront
Almost all of the brands we are working with are aiming to use sustainable packaging which can be defined in various ways, as it encompasses a range of environmentally friendly practices and materials
Here are four important aspects of what sustainable packaging can mean and that brands can focus on:
1. WASTE & WATER REDUCTION – Environmentally Responsible Packaging: Sustainable packaging refers to the design, production, and use of packaging materials and practices that minimize environmental impact by reducing waste and conserving resources throughout the packaging lifecycle.
2. FAIRNESS – Economically Viable and Socially Equitable Packaging: Sustainable packaging takes into account not only its environmental aspects but also economic and social considerations. Meaning: Packaging that is economically viable for businesses, ethically sourced, and produced with fair labor practices to ensure it benefits both – the environment and society.
3. RECYCLED/RECYCLABLE – Circular Packaging Systems: Sustainable packaging embodies the principles of a circular economy. It aims to create packaging materials and systems that are recyclable, reusable, or compostable, thereby reducing the overall waste generated and promoting a closed-loop approach to packaging.
4. FOOTPRINT – Minimization of Ecological Footprint: Sustainable packaging focuses on reducing the ecological footprint of packaging materials by utilizing renewable resources, reducing energy consumption in production, and prioritizing materials that have a lower impact on ecosystems and biodiversity.
We are not claiming that this list is complete but we see these factors as the key aspects. When a brand is choosing the packaging for it’s products, these factors are ideally considered. Whatever aspect it is you want to focus on (or maybe a combination?) should eventually align with your brands values and goals.
Let’s look at some well known brands and how they went about it.
LUSH – The less the better
For Lush Cosmetics, sustainable packaging means minimal to no packaging at all. They prioritize package-free products and use recyclable, reusable, or biodegradable materials.
Lush has introduced innovative packaging solutions, such as their naked products (solid shampoos, conditioners, and shower gels) and the use of recycled and biodegradable materials for their packaging. They actively promote the reduction of packaging waste and offer in-store recycling programs.
THE BODY SHOP – Recycled Plastic
The Body Shop’s sustainable packaging approach involves mainly reducing the use of single-use plastics, increasing the use of recycled materials, and promoting community trade and ethical sourcing.
The brand has set ambitious sustainability goals, including using 100% recycled plastic packaging by 2030. They also support initiatives like “Plastic for Change” which helps reduce plastic pollution in developing countries while providing income to local communities.
KJAER WEIS – Refillable packaging
Danish luxury brand Kjaer Weis focuses on refillable packaging as their sustainable approach. They aim to minimize waste and offer products that customers can continuously reuse.
The brand’s cosmetics come in stylishly designed, refillable metal compacts that reduce waste. Customers can buy refills, reducing the need for new packaging with each purchase.
These examples highlight the diversity of approaches and interpretations of sustainable packaging within the industry.
One brand is concentrating on recycling, another is trying to use as less packaging as possible from the get go.
All of the three brands showcase the importance of brand-specific goals and strategies to reduce the environmental impact of their products.
Finding the solution for your brand
Your brands packaging strategy needs to be carefully put together. From brand image/storytelling and consumer preferences to product requirements and cost analysis – this is a sophisticated process that is ideally guided by experts in the field. We are sharing some more details on how to approach this process in just a moment.
4. Packaging materials & market trends
We could list all the materials previously mentioned and write about the pro’s and con’s but instead we would like to share a best practice example.
At Luxe Pack in Monaco we had an encounter that left us impressed regarding sustainable packaging.
We met the people of Iggesund Holmen and had them explain their latest innovation to us. “Our paperboard, Invercote, is renewable, recyclable and completely biodegradable with a low climate impact. It is made from leftover wood parts from Holmen’s sustainably managed forests, and the energy used in the manufacturing process is bio- or hydro-based.”
We really liked their packaging samples such as „The sustainable travel kit“ made from completely renewable wood-based raw materials and the „The climate-smart insert tray“ they developed for „The Choco“ which shows how brands can lower their packaging’s climate impact without compromising on design or food safety.
What we really appreciated was the honesty they approach the topic with. They are aware that there are still a lot of unanswered questions and are putting a lot of effort into creating innovations with the help of their customers. „To us, the real value is the opportunity to co-create and share knowledge,” says CEO Johan Nellbeck.
We are excited to be working together on future projects. Especially when it comes to premium products. And while we are talking about it lets look a little closer…
5. Luxury sustainable packaging
So much of the appeal of a luxury product is down to its beautiful packaging, focusing on the visual and tactile senses of the customer.
UPSIDE Creative Solutions, a luxury packaging manufacturer from France, concludes: „Well-designed packaging gives the product an elitist character and reinforces the emotional appeal of the brand. This creates a sense of desire in the customer and is part of a brand’s marketing strategy.“
It’s a trend that is still in full effect. We haven’t seen many heritage brands cutting back on over-packaging in the last years. And while consumers are getting more vocal and demand more sustainable solutions the majority of the people aren’t quite there yet: According to UPSIDE Creative Solutions, „…65% of consumers expect the packaging in which their luxury purchase arrives to be a continuation of the luxury experience.“
This is a recent phenomenon also due to the digital trend of “unboxing”. It has contributed hugely to the focus on packaging. „Instagrammable“ product design is key, reaching more people than a brand’s paid advertisement ever could.“
So the dilemma is real – on the one hand the appeal and benefits as well as persistent customer expectations of luxury packaging for a brand and on the other hand the urgent need to create sustainable and responsible packaging.
We believe that as long as there aren’t any government regulations in place the industry and within it every single brand has to find its own solution.
What other ways are there to create an emotional bond between brand and client?
With a recent client in the luxury segment we found a good compromise to deal with the situation. From the very beginning the focus was on using as little packaging as possible while still being able to compete with other brand’s products on the retail shelves and online.
We made it a point to address and communicate these efforts to move towards greater sustainability from the moment we launch the products. We worked on an individual strategy answering some vital questions: How can we re-create that extra layer of excitement and delight customers feel during the unboxing process without using excessive packaging? Can good content and great storytelling transport some of these emotions? What other ways are there to create an emotional bond between brand and client? Apart from luxury packaging what else is there we associate with exclusivity and prestige, which adds to the perceived value of the product? What does a scaled back version of luxury packaging look like to us?
While working on the strategy we simultaneously sourced materials for packaging which we knew are perceived as higher quality and more valuable but at the same time met the brands high sustainability standards.
6. How Mind the Beauty can help you: Getting started with the creation of your own beauty brand’s packaging in 6 steps
When working with a client on their strategy we usually follow these six steps to acquire sustainable packaging for their products – from the initial concept to the finished product:
1. Defining sustainability goals and criteria: We begin by defining the brand’s sustainability goals, including what “sustainable packaging” means for them. We consider the 4 aspects we listed above (waste & water reduction, fairness, receycled/reuseable, footprint). This is also the moment where the communication strategy is being determined.
2. Assessing current packaging: Some of our clients have already a portfolio of launched products. Together we evaluate the existing packaging to identify areas where sustainability improvements can be made. This includes assessing material choices, production processes, and waste generation.
3. Select sustainable materials: We will then present pre-selected packaging materials from approved suppliers that align with the brand’s sustainability goals. All they have to do now is to pick their favorite.
4. Creating the design: Our team at MTB will be then consulting on packaging design to create packaging that meets the brand’s sustainability criteria (and local regulations such as cosmetics labeling requirements). Our in house creative designers are also experts (they are not only experts but they are absolutely genius – and yes of course we are slightly biased;)) when it comes to branding – from product name to logo, look and feel.
5. Collaborate with suppliers: Time to get production done. We work closely together with our packaging suppliers which we have selected carefully to ensure environmentally responsible production processes. We also consult our clients on a supply chain that aligns with their sustainability values.
6. Testing, production, and implementation: Once the designs have materialized into actual packaging we conduct testing to ensure quality standards and sustainability goals are met. Once approved, we transition to production followed by implementation of sustainable packaging across product lines and communications including SoMe.
These steps involve careful planning and collaboration with various stakeholders. Within the process of creating a brand/product this is one area where you shouldn’t try to save money by doing it without consultation. We have seen brands blowing it entirely during the process of making packaging decisions without taking advise.
Our Conclusion: In the ever-evolving landscape of sustainable packaging, brands often find themselves navigating a path with shifting terrain. With no universal set of regulations to steer the course, the journey can be daunting.
Yet, as we venture forward, it’s essential to remember that sustainability is a work in progress for everyone.
Guided by experts in the field, brands can find their way, charting a course that aligns with their values and meets the expectations of an increasingly eco-conscious consumer base.
Sustainability in packaging is not just a destination but an ongoing journey, and as we collectively work to reduce our environmental footprint, the path to more sustainable packaging options becomes clearer day by day. While the road may be challenging, the promise of a more environmentally responsible and sustainable future for packaging is worth the effort and collaboration. Together, we can create a world where sustainability isn’t just a buzzword, but a way of life.