• 29th June 2021

Can luxury packaging be sustainable?

The demand for sustainably manufactured goods has soared in recent years. With the average consumer now highly clued in about issues like climate change and plastics pollution, brands from every sector are facing increasing pressure to deliver on their sustainability promises.

The problem for many companies is that sustainability doesn’t always seem to go hand-in-hand with their business model. Within the luxury sector, there may be particular hesitation about committing to materials and processes that could reduce the perceived value of an item.

In truth, luxury brands may actually be in a stronger position than they thought when it comes to sustainability. Many of the features sought in a luxury product, such as longevity, chime with eco-friendly goals. As an added bonus, discerning consumers in this sector have greater disposable income and are often willing to pay more to help a brand achieve its goals.

Whatever the case may be for individual luxury brands, there’s no denying that – with consumer demand building each day – sustainability is a pressing issue, and finding ways to improve your green credentials should be a priority.

What is green packaging?

Green packaging – also known as sustainable or eco-friendly packaging – is packaging that is made with the smallest environmental impact. Though the exact definition will vary depending on who you ask, sustainable or green packaging will typically use responsibly-sourced materials and fewer resources, and centre on manufacturing processes that reduce waste and pollution.

This may mean a movement away from petroleum-based materials like plastics, greater use of recycled materials, and the switch to new suppliers who can prove that their processes are ethical and eco-friendly.

What are some sustainable packaging materials?

A packaging material may tick some sustainability boxes in a number of different ways. It may be manufactured from recycled materials, or from repurposed waste. It may be designed to enable easy recycling. Alternatively, a sustainable material might be one which offers longevity, allowing the end user to repurpose a pack for years to come.

Sustainable packaging materials include:

  • FSC-certified papers – sourced from renewable forests
  • Recycled papers – reduces the need to manufacture virgin materials
  • Tin – 100% recyclable
  • Glass – good for longevity
  • Bamboo – a highly renewable resource
  • Bioplastics – good alternative to plastics
  • Corrugated cardboard – highly reusable and recyclable

For a more detailed guide to sustainable packaging materials, check out this article from our parent company, GPA Global.

What is a sustainable supply chain?

A sustainable supply chain is one that aims to be eco-friendly at every stage, from gathering and processing resources through to manufacturing, warehousing and distribution. Being fully committed to sustainability means focusing on everything that comes before the product reaches the end user – regardless of whether they have awareness of these processes.

A key area for brands to look at in the supply chain is tertiary packaging i.e. the packaging that is used to wrap, store and protect the product during transit. The more reusable and recyclable this tertiary packaging is, the lesser the impact on the environment. The good news is, eco-friendly tertiary packaging (e.g. biodegradable packing peanuts and recycled/recyclable packing papers) is starting to become widely available.

Size and weight are two other big factors to consider during the transit process. If you can find ways for a product and its packaging to weigh less and take up less room on a pallet, you can cut the carbon emissions (and costs) associated with storage and transit. One simple way to do this is to switch from rigid to flexible packaging e.g. swap a pot or bottle for a sealable bag.

It’s also vital for luxury brands with sustainability goals to check the boxes for corporate responsibility. Good workplace conditions and fair wages for workers should be a given amongst all companies involved in the supply chain.

Which luxury brands are sustainable?

We’re starting to see a big shift towards sustainability amongst plenty of luxury brands. While some focus on the manufacturing processes involved in their products, others are putting the focus on social responsibility.

Luxury Beauty

Within luxury cosmetics, big name brands are taking huge strides forward when it comes to protecting the environment. La Mer has made a commitment to the conversation of marine biodiversity, and has raised over £4 million through their Blue Heart foundation.

Dr Hauschka sources most of the plants used in their products from a garden behind their office. Neal’s Yard Remedies has pledged to make the plastic in their packaging 100% recyclable by 2025, and REN has launched a range of recycled bottles partially made from ocean plastics.

Luxury Fashion

Fast fashion is known to be a big polluter, but within the luxury sector there’s the opportunity to redress the balance by creating high-quality garments that will be worn for years to come – rather than thrown on landfill within a year.

Beyond that, some fashion houses are doing their bit by prioritising the use of ethically sourced and animal-friendly materials. Stella McCartney’s fashion label has long been vegetarian and fur-free, but it also uses recycled nylon and polyester and organic cotton.

For other fashion houses, the emphasis is on eco-friendly packaging. In 2019, Burberry announced a new minimalist packaging line made from recycled coffee cups. They’ve also pledged to reduce the use of unnecessary plastics, replacing them with 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable plastics.

Luxury Spirits

For brands that make luxury spirits, premium packaging is often a big part of how rare or specialised releases are marketed to their discerning consumers. A bonus of this is that, by crafting “keepsake” packs, luxury spirits brands can encourage retention and reduce the risk of packaging ending up in landfill.

Many spirits brands are also making the shift towards sustainable materials, for both bottles and packs. Diageo recently launched a ground-breaking new spirits bottle, which is manufactured from 100% plastic-free paper materials. Made from sustainably sourced pulp, this bottle is fully recyclable.

Some newer spirits companies are staking their claim by crafting their entire brand around their eco-credentials. Air Company is a “carbon-negative” brand that uses cutting edge science to transform carbon dioxide (a key greenhouse gas) into impurity-free alcohol. The process removes 1.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per kilogram of alcohol produced.

How can luxury brands create sustainable packaging?

Work with responsibly sourced materials

An obvious change that luxury brands can make is to switch over to materials that are responsibly sourced. This may mean that they’re derived from highly renewable or well-maintained resources, like FSC-certified forests, or that they’re made from recycled, rather than virgin, materials.

When sourcing materials it’s also important to consider the ethical side. Eco-materials should be farmed and manufactured in a way that is fair and safe for the workers involved, as well as the indigenous peoples who live in that region.

Understand plastics

For many consumers, there’s a kneejerk negative reaction to the use of plastics. However, for luxury brands, it’s important to understand that the situation is not black and white.

First off, not all plastics are equal. Certain types yield a greater value, and therefore are more desirable in the recycling stream, while lower value and harder to recycle plastics are more likely to be discarded and ultimately end up in landfill.

Second, plastics have certain benefits that can’t always be easily replicated by alternative materials. Plastics tend to be lightweight and durable, making them cheap and easy to transport. What’s more, the manufacturing costs and emissions associated with certain “eco-friendly” materials may be much higher than those associated with plastics.

It’s important to understand that in certain contexts, the use of a traditional plastic such as PET may be favourable to trying to incorporate a material that appears at first glance more sustainable.

If luxury brands can get a good understanding of using plastics in a sustainable way, they’ll be able to continue using them as part of their packaging.

Make recycling easy

The ultimate aim for a sustainable pack that isn’t designed for reuse is full recyclability. To achieve this, a pack should be made from materials that are recyclable – that much is obvious. Considerations that may be less obvious are aspects like the inks used, and the overall structure of the pack i.e. how it fits together.

An easy-to-recycle pack might be one that uses soy inks and water-based adhesives (which are recycling-friendly), and that can be broken easily into separate components by the end user.

One increasingly popular eco-friendly approach is the mono-material pack i.e. a pack that is made entirely from one type of recyclable material. A mono-material pack made from tin, paper or one type of plastic is going to be easier to recycle, and will use less energy during the recycling process, because there is no need to separate out different materials.

Within the luxury sector, there is perhaps more reluctance to embrace such a stripped-back approach. However, in certain instances, a mono-material pack – or one that uses a minimum amount of materials – may be the perfect solution for a simple product such as a lipstick tube.

Be careful with embellishments

Embellishments are a big part of a luxury pack. Subtle, premium details like foils, varnish and emboss suggest the craftsmanship and money that have gone into a pack, and heighten the perceived value for the consumer.

Rather than eschewing these details in an effort to be more sustainable, luxury brands should look for ways to produce them in an eco-friendly way. Seek out foils and laminates that are fully recyclable, as well as UV varnishes – this process typically emits less pollution and requires less energy than traditional petrochemical varnishes.

Find ways to encourage retention

One simple way to prevent packaging from going to landfill is to encourage retention by the end user.

The most obvious approach is simply to increase the perceived value of a pack through the use of premium materials and finishes. Personalisation is another great way to enhance the value of a pack. Within the whisky sector, numbering on a pack serves as a reminder of the rarity of the bottle, encouraging the consumer to hold onto it.

The most inventive way to encourage retention is to take a luxury pack beyond its primary purpose. Modern luxury brands can bring out their imaginative side by creating packs with hidden speakers or playable features, or by manufacturing packs that have a clear secondary function e.g. as a jewellery box or clutch bag.

Consider the full life cycle of a pack

The full life cycle of a pack is important to take into consideration if you want to portray your brand as sustainable. Doing a life cycle assessment (LCA) will give you an idea of the carbon footprint and energy emissions associated with a pack, incorporating everything from water and electricity usage through to recycling.

When you look at the entire life cycle of a pack, rather than singling out individual elements, you can make better decisions about how to proceed. For instance, the LCA may highlight that a chosen “eco-friendly” material is actually creating more pollution during the manufacturing phase when compared to a traditional plastic.

If you can consider every aspect of production in this way, you’ll be able to find effective ways to reduce pollution and waste and, overall, minimise a pack’s impact on the environment.

Find your sustainable luxury packaging solution with GPA Luxury

The GPA Luxury team has over 20 years’ experience working with luxury brands to craft exceptional packaging. We work hard to deliver a user experience that goes beyond the norm, tailoring each project to the specific brief, and working with clients closely at every stage to ensure all requirements are met.

Today our specialism is with cosmetics and spirits brands. We’ve won major industry awards for our work with companies such as Estée Lauder, La Mer and Johnnie Walker. For our achievements, we’ve been named Luxury Supplier of the Year at the Luxury Packaging Awards four times.

Our pack for Medeau, a luxury fragrance brand launched at the beginning of 2021, is an excellent example of what we can supply to luxury brands seeking sustainable packaging solutions. We manufactured a pack to house Medeau’s signature scent that is fully recyclable, from the corrugated liner through to the metallic finishes.

We’re also excited to announce that we produced the packaging for Air Company’s cutting-edge vodka – and we’ll be unveiling the results of that collaboration soon.

To find out more about our capabilities within the luxury sector, the luxury packaging materials we offer, and our green credentials, get in touch today.

Your perfect packaging solution may be just a phone call away!