First published in the Digitalist in May
Research is pouring in about the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship. As we become more aware of the problems associated with modern lifestyles, businesses of all types are flocking to catch up. This is impacting the paper products and packaging industries as much as any other.
Consumers now demand smarter and greener paper products and packaging. They reward green innovation with their patronage and their approval. This translates to support and loyalty that help businesses grow and prosper.
Moreover, regulation, decarbonization, globalization, and digitization are putting pressure to make many paper products obsolete. This doesn’t mean we don’t still need them; we do. It means that paper and packaging companies that can keep pace with the new demands of the digital economy will thrive.
Sustainability is impacting paper and packaging and even driving some of the old-school products to go digital. So, what does this mean for the industry’s future?
Sustainability climbs in consumers’ eyes
During the postwar period, Americans and citizens around the world learned that the bigger and flashier, the better. That is no longer the case. The world has seen a growing recognition of the toll that consumerism takes on the environment. Sustainability is now king.
For instance, studies show hotels that integrate green practices can enhance their images. They increase customer satisfaction through carbon footprint reduction and eco-friendly technology. They earn higher levels of customer loyalty. They bolster digital customer engagement. And they build their brands as environmentally conscious businesses.
There is dissention in the ranks about whether sustainability can integrate with capitalism. Some argue a definitive no, while others, like Hunter Lovins writing for the Guardian, offer evidence that sustainability is better business. They argue that being green literally leads to higher profits and more robust companies.
This isn’t just talk, either. Customers are more willing to pay higher prices to obtain greener products. This ranges from personal care to food, clothing to furniture. And it encompasses paper and packing products as well.
An analog product goes digital
Sure, paper and packaging seem like wholly analog products. They may integrate with digital buying models like e-commerce, of course. But we still tend to view them as old-school.
One of the most surprising aspects of the evolving paper and packaging industry, therefore, is its digital transformation. Consider “smart” packaging, which has digital enhancements. It can track the storage conditions of a warehouse to ensure a product doesn’t go bad. It can offer tracking information. It may even be able to tell you whether a product is genuine or not.
In today’s world of digital business and hyperconnectivity, this is useful stuff. It proves that industry 4.0 is taking into account many consumer desires. Sustainability. Reduced Waste. Reliability. Added Value.
So now the question becomes, where are these industries headed? What can we expect to see from paper and packaging in years to come?
Where is the industry headed?
There are many ways to ensure reduced waste and increased environmental responsibility. After all, the world is no stranger to greener packaging. From recycled or reused cardboard to esoteric solutions such as a fungal replacement for Styrofoam, scientists and business leaders are working hard to green things up. Paper is no different; recycling has become the norm and other eco-practices abound.
But true innovation will go beyond recycling and finding inventive substitutes. In coming years, there are several distinct trends we can look out for.
For one thing, we can expect to see a significant decrease in lot sizes from many companies. This allows them to individualize their products to meet a growing array of consumer demands. Not only does this satisfy customers, it helps the environment. Smaller lot size means less waste. It means greater specification. And it means happier clients voting with their dollars for greener practices.
As hyperconnectivity takes hold, companies will offer consumers ever-greater knowledge on using products sustainably. The same is true for manufacturers themselves. By sharing intelligence with other companies, they will learn to maximize efficiency and reduce waste.
Last, expect consumer collaboration, helping companies provide closely targeted services on an individual basis. This helps reduce waste and meet customer needs every more efficiently.
A greener industry
As the digital economy continues to grow, the need for paper and packaging products will not disappear. They will likely always be with us in some form or another. As long as we deal in a global economy, we will need to transport goods from point A to point B.
The point, therefore, is not to eliminate paper and packaging. It is to green them up. It is to ensure that transport and shipping industries eliminate waste. It is to promote use of recycled materials in paper manufacture. And it is to encourage businesses to seek out smart and sustainable technologies.
Exploring new business models is time-consuming and expensive. However, companies that are willing to do it now stand the best chance of becoming the next innovators. Those companies will ride out changes in the digital economy and emerge on top in coming decades.
The IoT is transforming businesses, but at different speeds and scales. Learn more about the differences in The Internet of Things and Digital Transformation: A Tale of Four Industries.