As an industry, we’ve learned a lot of lessons during the pandemic. One of them is the resilience of the packaging industry. Even as printers struggled to keep their presses busy with traditional print applications, those offering package printing were humming along. With the packaging market expected to grow at a CAGR of 9% between 2021–2026, it’s no wonder we’re seeing more and more printers looking to enter that space.  This is nothing new, but the pandemic really highlighted just how much ballast packaging can provide in a storm.

Simultaneously, we’re seeing the growth in sustainable shopping behavior. You don’t have to search very hard to find a treasure trove of data on the topic. Take, for example, the Global Sustainability Study conducted by Simon Kucher & Partners, which found that for 29% of consumers worldwide, sustainability plays a role when making purchase decisions. This includes 30% of Millennials, who “always” choose a sustainable alternative when available. Twenty-nine percent of Gen X and 24% of Baby Boomers say they would choose sustainable alternatives when available, as well.

Packaging is no exception. There is a reason most companies with recyclable packaging put the recycling symbol on their boxes, bags, and containers. It’s not just the responsible thing to do. It’s good marketing. I recently ditched my long-time toothpaste brand because it doesn’t have a recycling symbol on its boxes. In my mind, big-brand toothpaste is toothpaste. If it’s more important to the CPG to create a box with a glossy coating and shiny metallic design than to keep its boxes out of the landfill, then we have different priorities. And I’m not even a Millennial. (If the boxes are recyclable and the CPG didn’t bother to put the recycling symbol on them, that’s on them.)

That’s why the story of Desert Harvest caught my eye. This provider of aloe-vera-based nutritional supplements and natural skincare products is becoming the first U.S. supplement company, it claims, to abandon single-use pill bottles in its packaging. The company is phasing out all single-use plastic bottles this year and moving to plant-based compostable bags for all supplements beginning this spring. It is also offering customers the option to purchase refillable Bluetooth-connected smart bottles and removing one ton of plastic from the ocean for every bottle purchased through an agreement with its bottle supplier.

Removal of single-use, nonrecyclable, and noncompostable plastic is certainly one that many consumers care about. In its press promotion, Desert Harvest points out that single-use plastic pill bottles contribute to plastic pollution and the associated impacts on climate change, from the greenhouse gases emitted during manufacturing to the methane emissions from the landfills where empty bottles are discarded. The company also points to the fact that Americans filled nearly 4.7 million retail prescriptions in 2022, many of them coming in these containers. “Dietary supplements added millions more to the waste stream, with 77% of American adults purchasing more than $31 billion worth of supplements annually.”

In this, we see Desert Harvest tapping both the trends in sustainable packaging and cause marketing. More and more studies are coming out showing the power of doing good in winning and retaining customers and converting products to sale. An older Cone study found that 87% of consumers will buy a product because it supports a cause that is important to them, and a more recent Porter Novelli study found that 81% support companies that prioritize important causes. A 5WPR study found that shoppers are willing to pay more when they know they are giving back. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of Millennials, it found, will pay more for a product when they know some proceeds go to charity.

All of these trends are coming together in a very interesting trajectory that anyone involved in the packaging space should be paying attention to. Especially those looking to win the business of the smaller, niche companies more accessible to the commercial printers just eyeing the game and looking to differentiate themselves. Sustainability and cause marketing make a powerful combination, and companies like Desert Harvest give us glimpses into what this could look like on a broader scale.