CPG sustainability in 2023: Key trends to watch out for

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Posted Nov 23, 2022
Brent Archambault

For brands in the CPG industry, sustainability is one of the biggest trends going into 2023. By any measure, interest in more sustainable products is rising and likely to reach all-time highs. But what exactly is sustainability? 

When a concept becomes a buzzword, its meaning is often confused. With all the varying expectations, many companies feel like they are being pulled in multiple directions. This sensation can then lead to inaction or, worse, outright deception. Fortunately, research can illuminate a better path.  

By listening and understanding your target market, you can better understand the practical actions you can take to lead your business to success. With a topic as central as sustainability, it is vital that you take action and communicate, or your competitors will take advantage of the missed opportunity.

What exactly is sustainability?

Sustainability is a hot-button issue and will likely grow into an even more significant force in the coming years. And to uncover opportunities to connect with these strong consumer sentiments, it’s critical to understand the ideas pinning up the concept. 

While there are many accepted definitions of sustainability, most of them value a balance between the environment, quality of life, equity, and economy. The most quoted definition comes from the UN World Commission on Environment and Development: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

One of the simplest examples of sustainability is logging companies planting trees. In the U.S., logging companies plant an average of 2.5 trees for every tree they harvest. These brands do this because they know that the number of trees is limited, and they want to sustain their ability to continue doing business and serving their customers and communities. Taking action now to ensure a more successful future—the true spirit of sustainability. 

Finally, sustainability is often broken down into three primary categories: 

  • Economic sustainability focuses on just preserving just those natural resources essential to maintaining economic production. 
  • Environmental sustainability considers the overall life support systems—vital for maintaining the health of all human life, making them critical from an economic perspective as well.
  • Social sustainability looks at preserving and protecting workers themselves so that they can lead productive, fulfilling lives.

The push for consumer education

One of the sustainability trends uncovered by research is a growing demand for education. This is a complex space. Many consumers feel strongly about sustainability but are unsure what actions they can take in their everyday actions. These consumers would like to see more brands using their influence to educate consumers about what sustainability actually is and how they can contribute. This can range from visual advertisements containing information about ecological issues to a simple phrase on your product’s packaging informing consumers how and where they can recycle it. 

Beware of “greenwashing”

Many companies have begun to notice opportunities for growth  as interest in more sustainable products has grown. Rather than committing to real change, however, some brands have attempted to take the easy way out. In this case, they focus on marketing themselves as a sustainable company without taking any practical steps in that direction. This is often far easier than truly tackling sustainability and can be a way to rehabilitate a brand’s reputation that might be suffering. This kind of all-talk, no-action behavior is called “greenwashing.” 

This may have worked in the earlier days of sustainability. Nowadays, however, consumers are no longer fooled so easily. There are also real repercussions involved in failing to take real action. One company received fines totaling millions of dollars when it was dishonest about its products’ recyclability. Additionally, the reputation damage that arises from greenwashing makes it even more of a threat to companies. 

When it comes to sustainability in the CPG industry, authenticity is crucial. Most people are now wary of the claims of companies when it comes to sustainability. This means that it is even more important to explain the practical actions your brand takes to be more responsible. One of the biggest requests consumers have when it comes to brands is that they are more honest about how sustainable their products really are. 

Dealing with packaging—reduction and recycling

One of the significant components of CPG products is the packaging. Each year, humans produce millions of tons of plastic waste, and the push for less packaging is getting stronger. This is a straightforward way to increase sustainability because less packaging means less waste. And while many well-known CPG brands have already committed to moving to more recyclable packaging and reusing materials, consumers are beginning to see how the onus of recycling is being shifted towards individuals. Several organizations have committed to relying on fully recyclable packaging for all their products by 2030, which is surely a step in the right direction, but looking at other ways of reducing waste are still critical. Research has shown that the global reusable packaging market is expected to grow dramatically over the next few years. This is also true of the global biodegradable packaging market.

 Many consumers would also like to see improvements made to the recycling process. Though many brands have moved to using recyclable packaging, consumers don’t always know how and where to do the recycling. Many areas have left it up to whatever private companies consumers use for waste management. This means that some companies will recycle certain products and not others. Regular people are often left wondering if a particular product is recyclable at all and how and where to take it. All this confusion has given rise to a demand for more standardization in the recycling space. By coming together and agreeing on standards, CPG and waste management companies could vastly improve the recycling process and contribute a great deal to sustainability goals. 

In addition to recycling and reduction, there is also a growing interest in refilling programs that enable consumers to easily refill their packaged products either from home or in person. 

Planning for a sustainable future

Ultimately, the future is uncertain. This is why building sustainable processes, products, and partnerships that foster longevity is important. Although this can be expensive and time-consuming, it is also worth it. Not only is sustainability important for maintaining your ability to continue doing business in the long term, but it can also dramatically improve your brand’s reputation. 

In addition, many consumers have expressed their desire to purchase more sustainable products, even if that means sacrificing brand name and paying more. One of the best ways to get a more accurate picture of how your customers view your organization is to rely on agile market research from aytm. We provide the fastest and most efficient way to get insights from your consumers that can help you make more informed decisions. 

We have only scratched the surface of true sustainability and the many critical issues that your brand should be aware of in 2023.

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