• Transform magazine
  • December 06, 2023


Is eco-labelling the solution to greenwashing?


With a new labelling system coming into play that allows shoppers to measure environmental impact of what they eat, Nick Vaus, partner and creative director at Free The Birds. , unpacks how the new system might affect the packaging design of FMCG products. The on-pack design, Vaus argues, shouldn’t be treated as a leaflet but rather as a beacon on shelf that attracts customers.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of greenwashing practices, so enabling them to take an active role in buying sustainable products in supermarkets is a winning tactic for brands. However, packaging cannot be their only tool to educate people on the environmental impact of the food they buy. The on-pack design shouldn’t be treated as a leaflet but rather as a beacon on shelf that attracts customers.

Brands need to consider what is most important to consumer culture – environmental scores or nutritional value? The behaviour of customer purchasing will not change through the introduction of a brand’s sustainability credentials listed on its packaging. Mirroring the efforts of the Fairtrade icon in a clear symbol- for global use, can allow brands to show their dedication to the environment whilst maintaining the ease of on-pack navigation.  This could be a simple process that both established brands and start-ups could implement without any immediate or critical changes to their supply chains. Foundation Earth is a great example at providing consumers with knowledge of a brand's pursuit to be greener, but the challenge here is to create an experience that simplifies navigation whilst educating customers. Creating a behaviour-changing campaign and a comprehensible stamp of approval assures consumers they are investing in products and companies that are striving for net-zero.

From a design perspective, ensuring the Foundation Earth symbol stands out on a busy food pack will be a challenge, so it will require flexibility in the brand guidelines and instructions on how colours can be used. On most FMCG products, the front of the pack has become cluttered with various quality seals, nutritional information, and endorsements. Foundation Earth has a lot to compete with whilst offering a shorthand of information for shopper analysis.

Brands should identify a consistent position on their packaging to help consumers effortlessly locate and decipher the information they need to make a positive and sustainable choice. A good solution for this would be the implementation of QR codes. From the NHS Track and Trace app to reading restaurant menus, consumers are fully on-board with the wide usage of QR codes. There is a golden opportunity for brands to utilise this tool on their products' packaging- directing customers to a dedicated webpage that provides further information to the customer making a conscious choice. The pixelation character and eco-label can be integrated to safeguard the aesthetic appeal of the packaging. This is also a chance for brands to improve their product accessibility through a QR code that acts as a portal to offer insight into the chemistry of a product through varied mediums required to assist those aurally or visually impaired. With a simple scan on their phones, consumers will be transported into the brand world and be immersed in factoring environmental issues and how shopping behaviours can positively alter them.

Nonetheless, there is an awareness task for brands as consumers need to understand the meaning behind this icon, simultaneously informing how brands and products are contributing to the good of the planet. Making big environmental claims without any substantial evidence will only alienate consumers. For example, an advert from plant-based brand Alpro was banned by the ASA because of false ‘good for the planet’ messaging. Deemed misleading according to the regulators, the milk alternative brand’s adverts will need to reiterate the company’s environmental initiative transparently to avoid the loss of investment in communications. 

Whereas an eco-label similar to Foundation Earth’s design will provide the seal of approval FMCG brands seek to certify its commitment to social and environmental initiatives within its business, the work mustn’t stop there. In order to show their long-term impact, brands must ensure this is communicated through all channels, bettering their chance at attracting the conscious consumer and making a genuine change.