What do consumer think about eco-friendly packages?

Experiment shows that consumers prefer biodegradable over recycling-based packages

Making product packages more ‘eco-friendly’ is becoming increasingly important. The question is: what do consumers think about that and are they willing to pay a premium for sustainably packaged products? After all, introducing more sustainable packaging that is not market-viable will not have a positive impact on the planet.

There are various ways in which environment-friendlier packaging can be developed. Packaging can be redesigned with ‘circular economy principles’ in mind. This means that the package material is as much biodegradable as possible, based on recycled materials or can be easily recycled, such as in the 3R approach of ‘Reduce, Reuse & Recycle’. This is in contrast with the traditional ‘linear economy principles’ which can be summarized as ‘Take, Make, Dispose’ approaches.

Consumer response to three sustainable design strategies (bio-based, optimal recycling, and light weighting) was tested in two experiments in which a total of 733 consumers participated. Participants were told that a major food company wanted to change its beverage and shower gel packaging from a conventional packaging (e.g. a PET-bottle) to a more sustainable alternative. They were then shown the description of the redesigned packaging, and asked to evaluate it.

Results showed that consumers are more likely to purchase packaged products with ‘circular’ improvements over ‘linear’ ones. Particularly, biodegradable- or renewable-material improvements were received most positively, followed by packaging that focussed on recycling-based improvements. Although light weighting was perceived comparatively less positively, each of these three redesign approaches led to higher purchase intentions and evaluations compared to the conventional packaging.


We also looked at whether combining design strategies would lead to improved purchase intentions and evaluations. Consider for example Coca-Cola’s usage of PlantBottletm packaging which is both stated to be ‘fully recyclable’ and ‘made partially from plants’, and over the years has also been reduced in material usage (i.e., ‘light weighting’). Our results showed that although in general ‘change is good’, more intensive redesigns don’t automatically pay off. The reason? Consumers simply don’t get more moral satisfaction from such combinations compared to less intensive packaging redesigns. A useful analogy is to consider the case of donations: Would you really feel twice as good donating € 10 instead of € 5 when contributing to a cause? Most people would not; it’s about participating in the first place. Here it’s similarly foremost about buying something that’s ‘green’ in the first place and not so much about ‘how green’ it is.

Results also showed that about 40% of the consumers were willing to pay a premium for more sustainable packaging. This premium on average encompassed € 0.58 for shower gel products priced € 2.79 (an approximate 20% increase). Interestingly, although purchase likelihood was affected by the specific redesign approaches, the financial premium consumers were willing to pay remained the same regardless of the redesign used.

Read the entire paper of the study: Steenis, N. D., Van der Lans, I. A., Van Herpen, E., & Van Trijp, H. C. M. (2018). Effects of sustainable design strategies on consumer preferences for redesigned packaging. Journal of Cleaner Production, 205, 854-865.

The paper can be temporarily downloaded for free using this link.


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Nigel Steenis

About Nigel Steenis

Nigel Steenis is PhD candidate in the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour group. He studies consumer preferences and choice for (sustainable) packaging options within the purchase context. The aim of this work is to develop (and empirically test) strategies aimed at increasing consumer choice of more sustainably packaged product options.

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