How a Generation of Conscious Consumers Will Change E-commerce Packaging for Good

Mariona Company, Global Head of Fiber-Based Sustainable Packaging, HP.

Packaging waste has reached critical levels during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting e-commerce boom. Almost in parallel, packaging’s importance to brand identity and customer experience has grown as it is increasingly the first thing consumers see and touch when “unboxing.”

In 2020 alone, HP eliminated 2,997 tonnes of hard-to-recycle expanded plastic foam from its product packaging by shipping more than 24 million units in molded fiber packaging, like this molded fiber packaging designed for HP’s Desktop Mini.

Faced with this packaging paradox, it is clear that we need better and more environmentally friendly solutions to single-use plastics. There are other benefits too. 9 in 10 Gen Z’ers—born between the late 1990s and mid-2010s—want the brands they buy to get involved in causes that better the world. Packaging can be a piece of the winning strategy to building brand loyalty with future consumers in competitive and sustainability-driven digital marketplaces.

The race to innovate, research new materials and produce groundbreaking design solutions that not only “wow” consumers, but also diminish the environmental footprint each product has is in full swing. However, to counteract the more than 150 million tons of single-use plastics being produced annually, we need to rethink the manufacturing process entirely. One material my team at HP is using to disrupt the market and advance innovation for packaging design is molded fiber – a widely recognized, 100% recycled, eco-friendly and biodegradable alternative.

Paired with digital manufacturing, highly customizable molded fiber packaging is achievable so that even the most intricate shapes can be created with crisp details and edges, including different textures, logos or branding. The tools themselves are also lightweight, which helps contribute to a reduction in energy consumption and improved overall maintenance.

HP 3D printed tools help scale Choose Packaging bottles for mass manufacturing by brands around the world

3D printing and digital manufacturing give brands and packaging innovators the freedom to iterate and get to production faster than with traditional methods. There’s no limit for what technology can do when we choose to get creative, lean into the recycled aesthetic and embrace the circularity of products and packaging. However, the push for more sustainable business practices cannot function in a silo. Eliminating plastic from packaging is just one step in what should be a unified, organizational approach to sustainable impact, and for that we need buy-in and investment from the top-down to impart meaningful and lasting change.

With an estimated $360B in spending power globally, Gen Z are rewriting the rules of retail and challenging brands to address some of our most pressing environmental issues with authenticity, transparency, and accountability – because what’s good for the bottom line should mean a positive impact on the planet for the next generation of consumers.

Written by Dom Thorby

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