Changing consumer shopping habits is no excuse to overlook packaging sustainability

Image credit: William Potter/Shutterstock

Wouter van Tol, head of government, community affairs and sustainability at DS Smith, tells Packaging Scotland how firms can maintain packaging sustainability aspirations while at the same time fulfil the demand of online shopping

DUE to the unprecedented demand of online shopping during Covid-19, we’re seeing a fundamental and structural change to the market. Such has been the rise of e-commerce that some of our customers making orders for one week which we would normally be seeing in one month, just so they can meet demand. In fact, our research reveals that e-commerce is set for a record Christmas, with Brits planning to buy an extra 145 million presents online – taking the total to over £1 billion for the first time. 

However, this change in behaviour doesn’t come without repercussions to sustainability and the environment. Poorly designed packaging will mean that in the UK alone, the Christmastime boom will result in nearly 150,000 unnecessary delivery journeys and close to 2,500 extra tonnes of CO2 being released. It’s these kinds of consequences that pose a real reputational and business risk to companies, especially as recent research showed that 85% of people say they want to buy products that use as little packaging as possible, and almost a third (29%) say they have stopped buying particular brands because their packaging was not sustainable.

Put simply, it’s clear that while the pandemic has changed our shopping habits it does not serve as an excuse for companies to overlook their environmental efforts, and firms need to stay competitive by evolving and responding to the changing world in which they live and operate. 

At DS Smith, it is critical that our drive to redefine packaging continues to place circularity at its heart and that is why our new sustainability strategy delivers more circular solutions for our customers and wider society – replacing problem plastics, taking carbon out of supply chains and providing innovative recycling solutions.

We encourage firms to take a whole systems approach to sustainability within their supply chains, by keeping materials in use, designing out waste that make it easier for consumers to reuse and recycle packaging, and regenerating natural systems. 

If companies embrace sustainable packaging at such an important time, they have a huge opportunity to make significant progress against their environmental, social and governance responsibilities while also meeting the surge of the unparalleled demands of online shopping.