When a consumer walks into a store to buy a bag of chips, he faces a myriad of choices: which flavor should he buy? How much money should he spend? And now thanks to the new SunChips compostable bag, is the packaging sustainable?

During our consulting project on sustainable packaging for a large consumer products company, my partner and I did a lot of research on the various priorities that drive consumers’ purchase decisions, such as price, quality, convenience, etc. One of our findings was that while many consumers value sustainability/eco-friendliness in products, price and/or quality are more likely to drive their decisions. So, this brings up the question, how do companies help re-prioritize consumer purchase factors? And how can companies remove the common belief that there is trade-off between sustainability and price/quality?

While obviously this is a complex problem that requires a complex solution, the first step companies should take is to dedicate more resources to educating consumers. By prioritizing education, companies will help guide consumers through the unknown and hopefully make sustainability higher on the list of priorities that drive purchase decisions.This may eventually lead to increased sales for some companies, leading to a win-win situation for both consumers and manufacturers.

Educating consumers is important for several reasons. For example, in our consumer survey, we found that nearly 90% of respondents said they would like more guidance from manufacturers on how to properly dispose of or recycle packaging. In addition, sometimes the sustainable version of a product’s packaging changes the traditional consumer interface. For example, that compostable SunChips bag is much louder than the ordinary chip bag due to the density of the compostable materials used to produce the bag. SunChips has addressed the noise on both its website and on its packaging. Other manufacturers should follow SunChips’ example and dedicate some packaging real estate and utilize other marketing vehicles to clearly educate consumers about new characteristics of their sustainable packaging that may be unfamiliar. Furthermore, consumer education can empower customers by communicating how each person can individually make a positive impact on the environment by purchasing sustainable products or eco-friendly packaging.

—Sarah C.

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