How to Cut your Costs And Make Your Package Greener

I started reading this piece, Unilever Sees Green With Pared Down Color Palette in Ad Age, expecting to read about natural inks. Instead I found a discussion of more or less reducing use of spot color to reduce costs.

Using a color-harmonization program called Project Rainbow, Unilever is reducing the more than 100 hues it uses on its spreads and dressings packaging in Europe to six. Unilever’s hope is to save tens or eventually even hundreds of millions of dollars a year. By some estimates, the entire industry could save $5 billion annually if it follows suit.

Most entrepreneurs, starting out, unless they are in a fashion forward field stick to 4-color process for package printing, much easier and cheaper, but as green has gone gangbusters recently, many ecopreneurs have increased their use of spot color to make their packages stand out. OK, so I buy into this strategy of color reduction as a cost savings method.

But, then I read how this also qualifies as an eco improvement

There’s even a potential environmental benefit. Mr. Gilmore (Thomas Gilmore, director-brand strategy for the Cincinnati-based branding and design firm RGI), who founded the Sustainable CPG forum on LinkedIn, notes considerable reductions in waste from such consolidations. Cost savings and waste reduction come from buying inks on a greater scale, creating far less ink and packaging waste in the process of doing changeovers, and from producing final packaging because reduced complexity can improve quality and consistency, Mr. Hawkins said.

Ummm, yes, I guess that’s true, but then does this mean that every time I implement a cost savings program that incidentally reduces waste, I can claim it is green? This is the tricky spot where a company leaves themselves open to a greenwashing charge.

As ecopreneurs, we are peculiarly situated, as both treehuggers and businesspeople. For us, we realize immediately that a large percentage of waste reduction projects will be automatically eco friendly, but we are rarely accused of greenwashing. Why?

In general, I think we ecopreneurs are more sensitive to the charge. I think we differentiate between actions intended for green purposes, damn the cost and those that are purely cost savings gestures.

In this area of hypersensitivity to greenwashing, what should a company do? Is it reasonable to label every action that is eco friendly, whether by design or not as “green”? Do we risk being labeled as a greenwasher?

What do you think?

Photo Credit: Unleashingmephotography on Flickr Under Creative Commons License

About the Author

Hear Maryanne speak on Social Media for Socially Conscious Brands at Expo East on September 27th! Maryanne Conlin is CPG brand marketer and digital marketing expert, CEO of RedRopes Digital and Partner Digital Strategy, 4GreenPs. A Shorty Award winner for best Green Content on Twitter, she was a member of the IAA team that won the Green Award in 2010 and most recently was a finalist for the PRSA - Los Angeles PRISM awards for social media. She and her team focus on providing strategic marketing direction, custom content for web, mobile and social platforms, social media community management and online promotions and digital advertising solutions for companies in the green, food and Hispanic space. Follow her on Twitter @maryanneconlin
  • Hi MC. I actually do think that every time a business reduces waste it can say its implementing a green practice. I don’t consider it greenwashing if the reduction is communicated as part of a larger greening effort. I also think many companies are accused of greenwashing because they position these innovations as being good for the environment. The ink example isn’t in and of itself good for the environment, but it does reduce waste which is good for the environment. Its all in the positioning. I would hate to see Unilever create an ad campaign about how green their new packaging is. However, if they claim this is one of many waste reduction practices I think they have the right, possibly obligation, to talk about it.

  • Hi MC. Sustainability for business is about searching for methods to cut the amount of waste and/or harm a product has on the environment. Embracing eco-friendly packaging and/or streamlining processes to create packaging are two approaches that can make a business more sustainable.

    Streamlining processes can affect a brand’s sustainability in many ways: one is that it can decrease the amount of energy needed to produce or transport a product, which makes a product more eco-friendly. The eco-friendliness of a brand is further improved if packaging is produced from “greener” materials, such as bio-inks or biodegradable packaging.

    At Schawk, we’ve helped many CPG companies produce more sustainable brands by helping them create environmentally-friendly packaging. In addition, we’re committed to efficient processes that help to lessen the environmental burden from the behind-the-scenes work that goes into developing brands.

    If you are interested in learning more about brand point management sustainability practices, you may wish to review the following Sustainability White Paper recently made available:

    I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding the white paper. Thanks!

  • Thanks Miguel,

    I read and Tweeted your white paper. I think your point about companies getting disconnected information on sustainability options by relying on vendors at the end of the packaging process is a great one!

    Love to hear what JoAnn, has to say as well.

  • Jennifer,

    I love the way your comment encourages a balanced reasoned approach. I agree!

  • Thomas Gilmore

    Obviously this is a very complex issue.

    Here’s a few quick thoughts…

    As a cost saving measure there is no doubt that reducing the number of colors is an important step. To your point, as an eco measure it becomes even more complex. Large consumer goods marketers have traditionally utilized a great deal of spot color to help solidify their brand’s equities at shelf. These inks come at a premium cost, not only for the raw materials, but in regard to the shipping, warehousing and distribution of the inks. A reduction of the number of inks used not only reduces the cost of inks used (basic economics), but has HUGE logistical implications. Those of us interested in the sustainability issue must recognize that the greater impact is felt much further up the supply chain. Little changes there make an enormous impact for good, although they may not be as sexy as other measures.

    Best regards,
    – Tom

  • MC, Thanks for sharing and tweeting the white paper. That is much appreciated. I should indeed gather JoAnn’s feedback as well.

    One additional point… Companies need to remember that as they seek to deliver more sustainable products, the significance of synergy throughout the branding process – from strategy to design to delivery on the store shelf. Delivering sustainable products won’t matter if they fail and are discontinued, so the branding process is just as critical to choosing eco-friendly materials.

    Thanks again!

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