Sustainable packaging (for beverages) is not just about the environment.
One of the common challenges that Insights and Innovation leaders share is working on issues that must meet specific technical definitions and wrestle with moral stress or social pressure.
Sustainable packaging is one such topic.
Sustainable packaging has a very specific implication for someone who must think about the regulatory and operational aspects of bringing a sustainable solution to life. But this task must also overcome a fair amount of perceived guilt and social pressure, both within the organization, and in the outside world.
For example, every time you ask the consumer why they should care about sustainable packaging, you get a familiar answer - it is about saving the environment.
And, even within an organization, the mere use of the word “sustainable” as a signifier of packaging creates a blatant assumption – that its purpose is to be better for the environment.
But in the world of linguistics and anthropology one of the foundational concepts that we discuss often is how words by themselves are meaningless. What gives a word meaning is dependent on the context it is placed into, in culture.
The same is true of sustainable packaging when it comes to beverages.
When you see the world through an anthro-lens you realize that assumptions can be dangerous. Words do not always mean what we think they mean. And often, meanings are illogical. But the more we understand the consumer-led perspective, these meanings can be wonderfully powerful in helping us drive more effective and impactful innovation.
So lets look at the meanings around sustainable packaging (in the context of beverages) using this anthro-lens.
First, and most importantly - it is not just about the environment. In fact, environmental impact is a small part of what this culture is all about.
The most dominant set of meanings that consumers associate with sustainable packaging are linked to quality ingredients and quality products.
In essence, what the consumer is telling us is that if a product is carried in sustainable packaging it is more likely to be considered superior in quality and to have superior ingredients. Naturally, the flip side of this is that if the packaging is not sustainable, the quality of the liquid can be called into question.
These meaning are inextricably linked.
But here is a plot twist. The overall culture of sustainable packaging (in the context of beverages) is volatile and not growing.
What does that mean?
It means consumers are not increasingly in agreement about the purpose and meaning of sustainable packaging for their beverages. A lack of convergence in meaning shows volatility in a trend or idea in culture.
But the plot thickens.
While the macroculture of sustainable packaging is volatile, the microculture of quality ingredients is growing and offering opportunities for innovation.
This is not an uncommon scenario to see where a macroculture exhibits volatility (consumers are not in agreement about their interpretation of the topic and its purpose in their lives) while a microculture within it, shows growth and better opportunity in terms of mainstream relevancy and population size.
This is only one microculture of many in this space, that indicate consumer demand for solutions that promote more sustainable beverage packaging. But what is so critical to this specific microculture is that if this trends continues to grow, consumers will increasingly raise their expectations for beverage products.
The companies that will have a competitive advantage will be the companies that understand:
If you want your beverage to be perceived as being high quality, it will require more sustainable packaging.
If you have your beverage packaging to be perceived as sustainable, the liquid will need to be high quality.
You can see this also reflected in the ethnographic DNA uncovered by our AI Anthropologist in this context. This is about much more than just responsible living. The symbolic capital driving this space is much broader than better for the environment.
How many such initiatives do you have in the pipeline, or in market, where you think you might be leaving growth opportunities on the table because of taking the obvious road? This is why we study meaning and why we wake up in the morning to do this thousands of times each year for some of the largest organizations in the world.
Meaning is anything but obvious.
And it is anything but logical. But it never fails at outlining the "specifications" or "requirements" from the consumer's perspective, to legitimize an idea and consequently your solutions, in market.