For the drinks and tobacco industry in the high-end luxury sector, brands tend to opt for varnished wood, MDF or perspex to encase and display their exclusive ranges. When it comes to packaging these high-priced items, brands tend to choose the less sustainable options at their disposal for fear of impacting the premium quality and experience consumers look for in these products. But the truth is, brands no longer have to compromise on a luxury feel, as the eco-friendly options available now provide a premium standard.
The stigma around paper being seen as a low quality material, unworthy of 7-star luxury status is far from reality. Because of its durability, paper unlocks design innovation and allows for technological integration that other materials aren’t able to achieve.
Through paper, the packaging industry has been able to continually push its creative boundaries. The only thing lacking is awareness in the high-end luxury market of how paper and cardboard can be utilised to create beautiful quality packaging while using sustainable practices. After all, the sector needs to be working towards the same 2030 sustainability targets outlined by the UN as everyone else.
Before addressing sustainability in luxury packaging, it’s important to identify what elements of luxury the packaging of products brings to the consumer experience. For high-end brands, packaging plays a key role in the brand messaging and an even bigger role in consumer experience. When thinking of Harrods, for example, the deep earthy green springs to mind immediately. Harrods encasing items in this colour triggers an association with opulence and high quality. Tiffany & Co, too, has a distinct custom colour called 1837 blue named after the year the luxury jewellery brand was founded. Again, everyone knows the role the covetable small suede bags and boxes play in representing the house-colour and brand. It’s understandable, then, that packaging on a budget is not an option for these high-end brands, and until recently sustainable packaging was not associated with elite brands.
It goes without saying that unboxing is a huge part of the luxury experience. But as we move more towards e-commerce, the formula of unboxing needs to be elevated, providing a more personalised experience for the consumer. This is where paper can help create the at-home luxury experience consumers are used to engaging with in stores. Texture, colours and embossings are all techniques that can be elevated with paper. In order for these to be part of the circular system which feeds into environmentally friendly packaging, luxury brands need to move away from practices like laminating and using paper that is contaminated with other materials. This means virgin fibres are imperative to ensuring the luxury sector can enter the circular economy. Because they’re the first in the chain, virgin fibres are by their nature more robust and therefore easier for luxury brands to create high-quality packaging. Not only this, but packaging made from virgin fibres can be recycled.
Materials aren’t the only way for brands to embrace sustainability. For brands that make luxury spirits, for example, premium packaging is often a big part of how rare or specialised releases are marketed. This creates opportunities to craft ‘keepsake’ packs, encouraging consumers to retain packaging, avoiding landfills. Brands like Diageo and Johnnie Walker Black Label have already experimented with this, creating a ground-breaking new spirits bottle, which is manufactured from sustainably sourced pulp - making it fully recyclable.
It’s not just token collectibles like this that paper can create. Thanks to its versatile form, paper packaging can be used to house recyclable microchips which can create a much more bespoke experience between luxury brands and their consumer. By using NFC (near-field communication) consumers can use their phones to scan the hidden chip, adding to the theatre of unboxing while not relying on unsightly QR codes to create the same drama.
Paper is inherently sustainable, and because of its versatility as a material it can provide a plethora of options for premium brands to showcase luxury and quality. By working closely with paper specialists, brands in the luxury sector can create experiences for their consumers that are sustainable and healthy for the environment while not compromising on the experience they expect from their favourite premium brands.