How does sustainability challenge luxury packaging?

How does sustainability challenge luxury packaging?

Consumers are becoming more environmentally aware and are seeking out more sustainable lifestyle choices, as discussed in our recent consumer packaging trends bulletin. Packaging manufacturers are responding by ensuring their materials and processes are as eco-friendly as possible.

But how about the luxury packaging market? There is increasing public and industry pressure on luxury brand owners to reduce the environmental impact of packaging. These implications have meant many luxury packaging companies have obtained Sustainable Packaging Coalition status, and use more environmentally friendly materials such as paperboard, rather than plastics. 

However, is there such a thing as responsible luxury, or does that defeat the point of products designed to be extravagant and superior? As part of our new bulletin series, Smithers Pira explores the potential obstacles involved with sustainability for the luxury packaging industry, and how these are being overcome. 

Why does the idea of “responsible luxury” pose a problem?

Prestige brands and their customers are often more concerned about the look rather than the eco-friendliness of packaging. Customers’ expectations for luxury packaging are much different from the general market, with packaging seen as an important part of the product itself. From cosmetics to confectionary, the entire basis of these products is centred on multi-material packaging which contributes to the overall feeling of ‘luxury’. Therefore, much of this type of packaging includes metallised plastic, metallised glass and many other types of materials; which, while connoting quality and expense, are very difficult to recycle.

The task of producing environmentally friendly packaging that is also luxurious is therefore a challenging one. Responsible packaging means a whole host of new issues for the luxury packaging market, such as practicality, cost, material choice, aesthetics and maintaining brand image. Due to any one of these reasons, it has often been the case in the past that sustainable packaging solutions have been dropped halfway through the process. 

What is currently being done to make luxury packaging more sustainable?

Despite the various issues involved, in recent years there has been a move towards more sustainable practices in the luxury packaging market. International fashion brand Gucci, for example, launched 100% recyclable packaging with FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) Certified paper back in 2010. However, do customers really care about sustainability when purchasing luxury packaging? Is this move towards sustainability for the luxury sector a genuine move or a passing fad? 

According to research undertaken by Greenwise Business, 47% of the 200 branding and marketing professionals researched felt that Gucci’s initiative to cut down on excess packaging was a true reflection of the industry’s environmental concerns and its future direction. 

In fact, a number of manufacturers are actively and continually developing luxury packaging solutions which are more sustainable. For example, Meadwestvaco have introduced a more lightweight paperboard Promina® for their tobacco packaging. This new material has a reduced weight ratio of up to seven percent when compared to their PrintKote® Tobacco paperboards, making it a more sustainable solution that can improve converting performance. 

In addition to materials, companies are taking measures to make their entire manufacturing processes more eco-friendly. For example, Crown Cork state they are using fewer resources and using less energy when producing their items; ultimately, ‘doing more with less’. They credit this success partly to the intrinsic benefits of aluminium and steel, which are the primary materials they use to make their products. Similarly, the Ardagh Group claims that it identifies, controls, measures and reduces its manufacturing processes and impact on the environment. Manufacturers have therefore made an effort to reduce their environmental impact through the processes they employ, which is definitely a leap in the right direction. 

What are the next steps?


Ways in which companies can continue to improve the eco-friendliness of packaging is to use fewer ink colours to achieve designs, and focus more on the properties of their board with regard to weight and whiteness levels. Bioplastics are being discussed by luxury brand owners, package designers and converters, but to date there are only a few examples of these materials being used for luxury packaging because of their relatively high cost.

Companies can also maximise the use of metal in their products. A current concern for the luxury packaging industry is that some brand owners are now increasingly replacing eco-friendly metal with plastic, particularly in the confectionary and spirits markets. This removes connotations of luxury and also compromises the environmental credentials of the product.

Meanwhile, metal’s low carbon footprint is derived from its high recyclability rate, and has the potential to be recycled an infinite number of times without molecular degradation or loss of structural integrity. Metal is the most commonly recycled of all household materials – almost three quarters of metal packaging is recycled in Europe. 

Crown Specialty Packaging Europe’s use of metal directly challenges the theory that sustainability credentials should be ‘hidden’ on luxury packaging to retain connotations of prestige. The metal tins they produced for Nicolas Feuillatte champagne have a printed recyclability message to demonstrate the brand’s commitment to sustainable development. Another factor largely unique to sustainable, luxury metal containers is their potential reuse around the home once contents have been consumed. Crown saw the potential in using tins for storage or display when creating, striking, elegant metal containers for Lambertz’ Luxury Best Selection biscuit brand. 

According to Veronique Curulla, European Marketing Manager at Crown Specialty Packaging Europe, “Metal packaging, along with the various decorative techniques available, gives luxury brands the twin benefits of dazzling impact and environmentally-friendly appeal. It actually enables the two factors to work together – forming part of a consistent, high-quality brand image.” 

While producing cosmetics products in metal tins, paperboard cartons or thin glass jars may be good for the environment, marketing to an industry centred around image, especially when it comes to luxury products and brands, requires careful handling. Manufacturers need to provide luxury packaging companies with packaging that looks as though it is contributing to the often enormous suggested retail price of the product, yet also has some environmental responsibilities. 

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