Spoiling the consumer. In a sustainable way.

Published 22 September 2016 by Caroline Nilsson
Personal indulgence and guilt-free consumption are two large but conflicting trends. People want to spoil themselves with nice products, comfortable services and experiences – without impacting the planet, society or even health in a negative way. Good food, modern homes, online shopping and world travel. But how can we indulge in these without feeling guilty?
Companies are responding to these concerns by increasingly informing consumers on the impact of their products, supporting them in their choices and educating them on the complicated issues of material selection, recycling and environmental footprint.

Good information is available in abundance and poured over consumers like milk over breakfast cereals! We are completely drowned in information often with clashing messages– resulting in complete confusion that makes us wary and insecure when making a purchase decision. Will our next move have a positive or negative impact?

The truth is, we as consumers want companies to do all the math and make the decisions for us, to help us to reduce the negative impacts of our own choices. We want to buy what we need and desire, and we want it to have value for the society we live in. We trust and reward companies who commit to social and environmental values.

And companies are listening and acting. For example, the American retail chain Walmart is dedicated to reducing food waste in the USA and recently launched the “I’m Perfect” initiative. This is a brand for apples that has traditionally been unsellable due to the damaged exterior, even though a perfect flavour and texture are maintained. Swedish retailer ICA launched a similar initiative this year, where unsellable fruit and vegetables are made into preserves and beverages. Other companies who have responded to consumer concerns are Intel, who has stopped using minerals from conflict zones, as well as Subway, who has removed a potentially harmful chemical from its bread.

For a proof point of consumer actions, just look at the high growth in sales of organic products. It is my firm belief that consumers who want organic products will, in the future, have higher demands for a fully sustainable solution for a product – from the actual product to low emission transportation, social fairness for workers and a sustainably sourced and manufactured packaging.

In 2014, 72% of consumers said that companies are failing to take care of the planet and society as a whole (Ref: UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study on Sustainability, 2014). The same study highlighted that two-thirds of CEOs believe companies are not doing enough to address the sustainability challenges. With all the sustainable initiatives reported from companies around the world, those numbers should hopefully have improved already by now.

For those of us who work in the packaging industry, this is all food for thought. Where can we make good choices for our business and society while still spoiling the consumer? I can name a few to start, for example, continue reducing the environmental impact from production, develop even lighter boards to save on resources, and produce stronger boards to protect products and reduce waste. And there’s more to come.

Altruism, the willingness to do things that bring advantages to others and society as a whole, is a growing trend. I believe only companies that make this an integral part of their strategy will survive in the long-term.

This article reflects the personal views and experience of the author.


Caroline Nilsson, blog author

Caroline Nilsson

Caroline Nilsson has spent over 20 years in the paper and board industry, focusing on strategy, market and business development. At the time of publishing of this blog post, she was heading Stora Enso’s Strategy and Business Intelligence function in the Consumer Board division.