Green Nudging in Packaging
Green nudging in packaging: weighing the effects of behavioral psychology on the sustainability front
Nudging is the concept of using indirect suggestions and social reinforcement to influence the behavior of individuals. It can be as simple as larger recycling bins than garbage bins so that people prioritize recycling. Or green arrows painted on the ground directing people to choose the stairs instead of riding the escalator. Nudges are subtle and always include the freedom of choice for consumers, but green nudging in packaging can have a significant impact on sustainability without costing a penny.
The utility company Opower set a precedent for using nudge theory to boost consumer sustainability. Their plan was to convince households to reduce their energy consumption in a simple and cost-effective way. The concept was simple, on their monthly bill, a customer would see their energy usage compared with their neighbor’s. In so doing, Opower employed peer pressure at no additional cost and achieved a 2% reduction in electricity consumption, equating to a reduction of 1 billion pounds of CO2 emissions or $75 million in energy savings.
Since then, behavioral scientists have conducted experiments and proposed plans for similar green nudges. A study in Germany proved that strategically designed and well-placed signs can dramatically improve recycling rates. Ambient’s “Energy Orb” changes color when the demand (and price) for energy rises, another elegant way of helping consumers reduce their ecological footprint and save money.
Nudges in the packaging industry
CNN recently published a video in which they discussed the potential of green nudges in the packaging industry. The video analyzes the damage that rush shipping, or prime shipping, has on the environment in comparison with the slightly longer transit time of regular shipping. In the interview, Janelle de Weerd and Patrick Oberstadt from Crobox explain that at checkout, auto-selecting normal shipping and giving customers the option to switch to rush shipping would be an easy, cost-effective nudge with the potential to significantly reduce the number of unsustainable rush-shipping orders.
Jenic Mantashian from BVA Nudge Unit also discusses in the CNN video the concept of using green-colored corrugated carton to represent sustainably-shipped packages. This would utilize peer pressure to influence neighbors into making more eco-friendly decisions with their e-commerce shipping. Adding a social dynamic to decision-making has already proven to result in more consumers choosing sustainable options, without incurring significant costs for customers or businesses.
Potential problems of Green Nudging in packaging
A study in Nature Climate Change presented evidence from six experiments, which all indicate that green nudges compel consumers to be less likely to support more important environmental policy. Nudges, though inexpensive, provide a moral license for consumers that undermines other sustainable initiatives and environmental policies. E-commerce shoppers, feeling that they have fulfilled their environmental duty by choosing regular shipping, are likely to shop more online than in person – increasing their net ecological impact despite what they believe. Green nudges have never, even theoretically, been thought to effectively combat climate change. They have always been proposed as complementary to more impactful policies, like a carbon tax, but considering their potential to detract from larger-scale environmental legislation, the concerns about their usage are critically significant.
Sustainability on both sides
It is clear that sustainability has to come from both sides of the checkout counter, consumers and businesses. While green nudging focuses on the consumer end, this is only half the equation. Packaging and e-commerce companies also face an obligation to improve the sustainability of their products and services.
At EPE USA, we ensure that no matter how quickly consumers receive their package or what color the package is – it is designed to have the least environmental impact. The positive effects of sustainable consumer choices must be mirrored in the e-commerce world by eco-friendly packaging materials. Businesses and consumer support together for sustainable initiatives create the symmetry necessary for a greener future. Here at EPE USA we have implemented revolutionary processes and developed innovative packaging designs to have the least environmental impact possible. Now consumers, it’s your turn.