Many luxury brands find themselves at a crossroads. They’re under increased pressure to use eco-friendly packaging, in large part due to greater consumer awareness about the environmental impact of the goods they purchase. A thorny challenge these brands face is finding the delicate balance between their aspirations to meet these new sustainability demands with the necessity to remain faithful to their brand image.

Luxury brands know that first impressions matter. For many prospective customers, a luxury product’s packaging is often the first introduction they have to the brand. However, at first glance, the concept of sustainable packaging does not seem well-suited for luxury products. They have traditionally used plastics, metals, fabric, and other luxurious (but not eco-friendly) materials to convey the extravagant appearance or opulent feelings that the products promise.

Some luxury brands have already embraced the challenge of transitioning toward sustainable packaging. Others, however, have been slow in responding to the global trend. Now is the time for these companies to rethink adopting eco-friendly packaging, not only to incorporate sustainability as part of their manufacturing and business processes but also to seize the opportunity to be leaders in sustainable excellence.

Sustainability Challenges

Brands across the spectrum find themselves faced with greater consumer and regulatory pressures to use sustainable and biodegradable packaging. Many brands, particularly in the health and beauty sectors, have invested in using all-natural ingredients in their products and have adopted sustainable manufacturing processes. They have extended these efforts to using eco-friendly packaging. This trend toward sustainability presents an even greater challenge for luxury brands, which are more sensitive to the possibility that making packaging changes could harm their brand identity.

Leading the Way

Although customers have higher expectations for upscale goods than other products, many luxury brands are working hard to meet the challenge of improving the sustainability of both their products and their packaging. These brands are exploring different materials and approaches to use eco-friendly and biodegradable materials while maintaining the visual, emotional, and traditional appeal of their goods.

The world-renowned fashion house Gucci and the cosmetics brand Estée Lauder were among the early sustainability adopters in the luxury category. Gucci has been using recycled cardboard for its boxes since 2010. It later developed a set of sustainability principles, know as its Culture of Purpose. These principles include protecting the environment and improving sustainability as part of its brand identity. Gucci has also reduced the number of fashion shows it holds each year from five to two.

Cosmetics giant Estée Lauder has set a goal of reaching zero waste in its products and packaging. The company is a member of several business sustainability associations, including the Circular Economy 100, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, and the Sustainable Packaging Initiative for Cosmetics (SPICE). It has adopted a comprehensive set of initiatives to achieve its responsible-practices goals, such as incorporating green chemistry into its products and processes, conducting lifecycle analyses, and using plant-based materials.

Many other luxury brands have adopted eco-friendly packaging. Legendary Champagne producer Dom Pérignon now uses recyclable, biodegradable cardboard packaging. Apparel company PVH — which owns Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and other popular brands — is working toward its goal of 100% sustainably and ethically sourced packaging by 2025. “As a global apparel company, we recognize that we have a responsibility to reduce waste, and one key way to do so is by minimizing our packaging and making it recyclable,” said Marissa Pagnani-McGowan, PVH’s group VP of corporate responsibility.

When it comes to sustainability and eco-friendly products, millennial and Gen-Z consumers are particularly concerned about transparency. To provide a clear view into its eco-friendly initiatives, Everlane offers digital tours of its factories, giving consumers a first-hand look at the brand’s sustainability processes.

Making the Move

Luxury brands that are considering going green have a wide variety of new sustainable packing solutions to choose from. The green packaging industry is forecast to reach a value of more than $440 billion by 2025, according to the consulting firm Research and Markets. Both increased market demand — as more brands adopt sustainability to meet consumer preferences — and a surge in innovative technologies and materials are fueling this growth.

Molded fiber is one of the eco-friendly materials that can be used for a wide range of luxury products. Made from recycled corrugated pulp, paper, bamboo, bagasse, and other fast-growing natural fibers, molded fiber is a top choice.

New technologies have enabled molded fiber to meet the specific demands of luxury brands. This adaptable, biodegradable material can be designed to provide smooth draft angles and a premium feel. Molded fiber is also highly customizable. It can be formed into many shapes and textures, and it can easily be matched to brand colors. Other advances in packaging technologies, such as smart packaging, can help luxury brands maintain their image and boost consumer engagement. For example, a QR code can be printed on or attached to molded fiber packaging. When consumers scan the code with a smartphone, they receive information about the brand’s sustainability efforts and instructions on how to recycle or reuse the packaging.

As a luxury brand, you’re always focused on ensuring that your products project your brand’s image. Sustainable packaging has become an indispensable part of attracting customers and maintaining brand reputation. With the right approach, materials, and design, it’s possible to find premium-quality packaging solutions that will help you meet your luxury customers’ desires, become environmentally responsible, and make supply chains and shipping more economical.

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