The retail industry as a whole can learn a lot from the spectacularly messy switch from single-use plastic to re-usable plastic bags that has been plaguing two of the country’s biggest supermarket chains in recent weeks.
Reports of disgruntled customers, angry environmentalists, and abused workers have been circling since Woolworths banned single-use plastic bags in-store on June 20, followed by Coles on July 1. As a whole, consumers are in favour of more sustainable packaging options, so what has gone wrong, and what can e-tailers do to make the environmental switch, minus the customer fall-out?
According to the Global 2018 SME Pulse Report from American Express and Oxford Economics, 86 percent of small businesses believe sustainable and ethical business practices is a key driver in growth and profitability. This thinking also isn’t missed on larger businesses and has certainly been making waves in the fashion industry of late, with global brands like H&M and ASOS both taking steps to improve their supply chain and overall business practices.
The problem with the major supermarket chains’ switch to a more sustainable future is the messaging they’ve been sending. RMIT’s sustainable packaging and products expert, Simon Lockrey, told News.com.au that Coles and Woolworths haven’t sent the right message. He believes that customers are only seeing the negative implications of the ban, rather than the positives.
“There are lots of ways we can do this better but unfortunately the retailers don’t seem to have their heads around it.
“It’s about engaging people about positive things, not smacking them over the head with a stick,” he told the news outlet.
Lockrey believes people need to be educated on what plastic bags are doing, not just told they need to pay for an item they’ve historically received for free.
This is something that H&M has done effectively, through the production of annual sustainability reports and regular consumer updates on what steps the brand is taking to reduce its global footprint.
In the case of Woolworths and Coles, the education piece has been referred to as “lacking”. Consumers across the country are confused about how long the bags will last, how long they need to be re-used to actually make a difference, and who is actually profiting from the production and sale of the bags.
Online retailers, on the other hand, have the unique advantage of being able to learn from these mistakes. Take, for example, The Better Packaging Co’s approach to educating its customers.
The company’s range of compostable courier packaging products can reportedly combat the issue of product packaging ending up in the landfill and the oceans after just one use.
“For a circular solution, at the end of the product’s service life, materials are recovered and regenerated. When these plant-based packs are left in compost, after 90 days they just become warm fodder and then soil to re-grow the plants,” co-founder Rebecca Percasky explains.
Percasky’s business partner, Kate Bezar also references the problem its comPOST Pack products are solving.
It’s one less plastic bag being produced with all the associated pollutants, and it’s one less plastic bag to end up in landfill or down a whale’s throat,’ she says.
This open communication and clear, yet effective message is what helps to sell the sustainable packaging solution. When a retailer decides to switch to this packaging instead of traditional plastic wraps, the message can then be repurposed to help educate the consumer on how their purchase is more environmentally friendly.
With consumer demand quickly shifting towards a more eco future, searching for, and successfully marketing these sustainable solutions have the potential to give brands a competitive edge, while also opening up a broader, more ethically-minded consumer base.