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Modern consumers demand sustainability that’s more than skin deep

Sustainability and style don’t have to clash – but they do have to be genuine.

Improving packaging’s sustainability has long been a key challenge for internal teams at beauty brands. But, as Gen Z and now Generation Alpha consumers become dominant forces in the consumer market, the pressure to find new packaging solutions that combine style with minimal environmental impact is now coming as much from customers as from legislators.

Modern consumers demand sustainability that’s more than skin deep

Sustainability in the digital age

Today’s consumers – particularly Gen Z consumers – consider the impact that their purchases have on the environment. How those products are packed makes up an essential part of those considerations. For tomorrow’s consumers – Generation Alpha – this trend will be even more pronounced.

The beauty industry is innovating to meet these evolving demands. A Forbes study found that nine in ten consumers believe sustainability and other ESG considerations are a factor when buying beauty products. 15% of beauty shoppers consider sustainability more important than price and product performance, indicating a significant mindset shift in modern consumers.

This is complemented by another typical trait of Gen Z consumers – as the first ‘digital natives’ who grew up alongside widespread internet adoption, they are generally more comfortable online than any generation before them. This means that making informed online purchases is second nature to them – something packaging producers and brands can capitalise on by focusing on authenticity.

Backing up green claims

‘Greenwashing’ – the practice of making misleading claims about a product’s environmental footprint – is an issue driving scepticism among all consumers today, particularly Gen Z. A McKinsey report found 88% of Gen Z consumers don’t trust a brand’s ESG claims. In other words, greenwashing will no longer wash with modern beauty consumers.

The issue is so widespread that legislators are taking notice, with the EU and the UK recently introducing regulations around green claims. It means modern consumers increasingly turn to figures they trust – often influencers – to provide information about prospective purchases before they buy. In fact, 43% of Gen Z consumers start their search for new products on the viral video app TikTok . And modern consumers, who are accustomed to researching the products they buy online, are more likely to see through bogus claims than ever before.

This cynicism can be a real headache for beauty brands. Beauty products rely on selling positive feelings like confidence and self-care to their consumers. If consumers instinctively doubt the sustainable claims of a product, they will begin to doubt the other claims it makes, too.

It means that, while sustainability can be an attractive point of differentiation for beauty brands, any green claims have to stand up to scrutiny. Ingredients sold as ethically-sourced should come with a transparent supply chain that consumers can easily trace back to the point of origin. And packaging has to meet consumer preferences too, making use of biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable materials, and natural paper-based alternatives to plastic where possible.

Sustainable style

The technology exists to satisfy this appetite for change – and without compromising on the traditional high-impact aesthetics of cosmetics packaging. Advances in material technology mean new, more sustainable inks and varnishes can be used to create high-impact graphics. This can be augmented through premium features like metallization, which is ideal for masstige brands looking to add luxury flourishes to their packaging. Recycled board can now be made with a whiteness and smoothness that rivals virgin board, making high-quality printing much easier. The possibilities for captivating combinations of design and finishing techniques are limited only by the imagination.

Sustainable does not have to mean boring or repetitive. Recyclable packaging, for example, can be as bright and disruptive as any other format, offering as much to budget brands as it does to heritage luxury. And the standout designs, shapes, and configurations on show at Paris Packaging Week next January should serve as inspiration for brands yet to embrace the drive for greater sustainability in their packaging portfolio.

In a stable market that relies on consumer loyalty, brands can make great strides to retain that loyalty as modern consumers increasingly grow to value sustainability. PCD Paris shows us how the market is changing every year, with new ideas bearing fruit all year round.

The event has always been the place to be to discover the latest possibilities in packaging, both in terms of visual impact and improving sustainability performance. As the climate crisis continues to escalate and Gen Z’s spending power reaches new heights, drawing inspiration from the next generation of high-end sustainable packaging solutions has never been more important for the beauty sector.

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