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Consumers Want Environmental Info on Product Labels: Why Now Is the Time to Act

Image credit: Packaging-Gateway.com

Package labels that clearly detail food product ingredients have become the norm, thanks in large part to demand from consumers who want to be able to make informed decisions about their purchases. But what about other information related to sustainability and how product packaging is sourced?

Current product labels do not offer a sufficient or clear explanation of sourcing and sustainability information. We need to recognize, across all industries, that the materials used to develop the packaging of a product is equally as important as the ingredients that go inside a product. Consumers are demanding greater transparency and it is the responsibility of all of us, including manufacturers, regulators and third-party groups, to fulfill this obligation.

According to a new survey by Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), more than four out of 10 Americans believe sustainability information on product labels is confusing and needs to be simplified. Moreover, only one-third of Americans believe sustainability information provided on labels is trustworthy and accurate. This is unacceptable. Given this gap of understanding and trust among Americans, now is the time for brands, governments and other third party entities to work together. They must emphasize the importance of being transparent about where product materials and packaging are sourced from, and accurately reflect this information on product labels.

What Information Do Americans Want to See on Product Labels?

According to APP research, Americans would like to see a range of CSR information included on product labels. Examples and findings include:

  • 57 percent would like to see whether the packaging is derived from recyclable materials
  • 43 percent would like to see if the packaging is made from renewable sources
  • 25 percent of Americans want to know if the packaging material is made from deforestation-free sources

Other details that consumers would like to see displayed on product labels include: water conservation and protection efforts; labor practices; and community engagement practices. As the results suggest, consumers are placing more importance on corporate environmental practices, which can have considerable implications on a brand’s image and overall reputation.

How Does Environmental Information on Product Labels Affect Consumer Purchasing Decisions?

A majority of Americans, including nearly 60 percent of Millennials, are more likely to recommend a brand or product if it includes sustainability-related information on labels, according to APP research. The survey also found that four out of five Americans have checked for sustainability information on labels when making a purchase. In response to Americans’ growing interest in prioritizing sustainability with their purchases, many companies are rethinking their environmental practices and how they share information with consumers.

Efforts to meet this emerging trend must extend into all aspects of a company’s operational and manufacturing processes. Brands that do not prioritize the integration of stronger and more transparent environmental practices in their supply chains and products run the risk of suffering from a reputational perspective — which may lead to reduced profits.

Brands Helping Set the Standard for Understandable Product Labels

We recognize why including clear and accurate information on product labels is important for consumers. But, which brands have strong sustainability programs and are doing this well? How can others replicate these best practices?

Several companies are doing good work in this area, including:

  • P&G – P&G does a terrific job integrating all aspects of its sustainability/CSR initiatives into operational, manufacturing and supply chain operations. A critical component of this effort is to ensure that it is properly communicating these messages to consumers on its product labels. As a result, consumers are reassured and feel safer about the products they purchase from P&G.
  • General Mills — A significant aspect of General Mills’ sustainability program is ensuring that the materials used in its products are sustainably sourced. Its product labeling, combined with a robust explanation of how it is approaching its sustainability initiatives through its website, provides consumers with education, assurance and peace of mind.
  • L’Oréal and Avery Dennison — L’Oréal and Avery Dennison recently embarked on an initiative to reduce the environmental impact of packaging labels across a product life cycle. Sustainability information can be found on their product labels and is outlined in more detail on the brands’ respective websites. Both brands are leading examples of how to communicate the consumer benefits of its sustainability efforts.

All of these brands, as well as others, employ various forms of eco-labeling and other instructive details regarding sourcing materials and broader environmental activities. Since there is limited space on product labels, it is important that brands take a dual-approach – one that displays clear and accurate information on the physical product labels, but also linking to websites where consumers can access more comprehensive information about CSR initiatives. The EPA website includes a list of more sustainable product programs and is helpful resource on how to get started.

What’s Next? The Need for Collaboration and Action

Based on the examples shared, we see growing momentum relative to brands integrating more sustainability information on product labels. Yet, the absence of a comprehensive commitment by brands, industry groups, policy makers and third party influencers will hinder our progress. Americans have expressed frustration with the lack of clear sustainability information on product labels and how these efforts are extending to all aspects of company operations. It is incumbent upon APP, as well as the private and public sector, to help lead this charge.

Individual efforts are already underway. Let’s build on this momentum and get moving.


Ian Lifshitz is the North American director of sustainability and public affairs for Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP). He is responsible for leading the company's sustainability and media relations and other related stakeholder engagement programs across Canada,… [Read more about Ian Lifshitz]