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Sustainable Packaging Growth Losing Ground

The consumer’s emphasis on sustainability in packaging is not growing as quickly as it did one year ago, according to a packaging industry study, 2011 Sustainability in Packaging, from Packaging Digest and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

The fifth annual survey found that 8 percent of respondents believe that the consumer’s emphasis on sustainability in packaging has declined in the past year. This is an increase of 167 percent from 2010 when 3 percent of respondents reported waning emphasis on sustainable packaging.

More than half of respondents, 53 percent, indicated that they believe consumers have increased emphasis on sustainable packaging. Comparatively, in 2010, 61 percent thought consumers were looking for more sustainable packaging, which is down 13 percent year-over-year.

Consumer demand for sustainable packaging was cited as the big influence on a company’s sustainable packaging efforts, with 48 percent of respondents indicating it is important. This was followed by 47 percent who said that pricing pressure was a primary factor. Retailer/brand owner requirements was a primary influence of sustainability efforts among 35 percent of respondents.

Economic conditions across the country were cited as a major reason that some businesses have scaled back their activities in sustainable packaging. Another 16 percent say conditions have merely slowed or postponed sustainability efforts. Thirty-five percent of participants said managing costs is the business factor that will have the greatest impact on their companies’ strategic direction over the next five years.

Roughly one in five, or 19 percent of respondents, said customers simply are not willing to pay higher prices for sustainable packaging.

The survey reveals relatively flat results in other areas. Downward-trending margins are small, for example, among those reporting a high or moderate familiarity with sustainability issues. 2011 results showed a 3.5 percent year-over-year drop to 80 percent from 83 percent of respondents.

An area that trended upward: a growing number of study participants (41 percent) say the emphasis on sustainability within their companies has stayed the same in the past year, compared to 31 percent a year ago.

When asked how they’d rate their company’s success in achieving sustainability, just under one quarter of respondents say the business they work for had achieved levels beyond what similar companies had achieved. A majority, 59 percent, rated their companies on a par with similar companies, and 17 percent say they were not faring as well as competitors.

The study was conducted among industry insiders of consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs), retailers, packaging services and converters, and machinery and materials suppliers in September 2011, and it had 674 respondents.

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