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Green Matter: Packaging the Message

What's on the inside may well be what counts, but it's what's on the outside that we interact with. Research has shown that some 93% of customers value the color and appearance of a product over any other factor, including its performance. And green packaging is no exception.

While the Freedonia Group recently predicted that world demand for green packaging (packaging that is recycled, reusable and /or degradable) is projected to rise a whopping 5.7% per year to $212 billion in 2015, according to research from The Big Picture, a specialist design research agency based in Britain has shown that in itself, sustainable packaging is not enough to attract consumers. Design researchers at the agency carried out a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with consumers to gain insight into the choices they made, and how they made them, in the supermarket.

The Big Picture found that consumers not only judged products by their packaging, disappointingly, they judged the packaging by what they perceived as "excessive or unnecessary packaging using materials such as plastic, which they see as less recyclable, regardless of whether a product had a recycle friendly or similar logo."

Consumers were found to choose supermarket products that came in packaging that had motional appeal, carrying images of people or animals benefiting from the productʼs sustainability, rather than in packaging with a more rational design. Said Suranee Abeysuriya, The Big Picture director who designed the research: "Consumers seem to have been turned-off by the dominant culture over recent years of top-down, finger-wagging messages about changing behavior to be more sustainable, and they therefore seem to screen out logos and rational information on packs. Instead, they look for feel-good factors which means they can make an easy, instant contribution to sustainability at point of purchase."

For bioplastics producers, it's something to think about. According to the Industry Experts report 'Bioplastics - A Global Market Overview', released on January 3, 2012, packaging is estimated to be the largest end-use application  for bioplastics, accounting for  about 60% of global bioplastics consumption in 2012.  Growing public concern regarding the environment, climate change and constricted fossil fuel resources represent key drivers for governments, companies, and researchers to unveil safer alternatives to petroleum-based plastics.

Yet virtuously plain, responsible packaging is obviously not the way to win the hearts of the public. Bioplastics are past the stage where going green is an excuse for drab colors and poor design, and must now play by the same rules as everybody else - no easy task, as, even with the rising prices of conventional plastics, these materials still tend to be the more expensive choice for mainstream applications. However, sustainability, cleverly packaged, can still be a significant attraction factor for consumers. Being good, in this case, means looking good while capitalizing on the powerful emotive appeal of doing good.

And according to The Big Picture's findings, this requires an emotional cue, like a penguin or perhaps a baby seal.  

As always, it's all in the packaging.

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