It’s difficult to know just how much influence the increasing green movement and environmental awareness has on the consumer’s decision to purchase. It varies very much with the product and the desire of the consumer to have the product. Brand marketers have paid a lot of attention to the sales potential of being able to label the packaging used on a product as ‘environmentally friendly’. But when it comes to packaging environmental considerations rate generally as only as of secondary interest for shoppers whose primary concern is the overall package appearance and functional concerns.

That’s not to say that a marketing message about how green your packaging is isn’t worth developing but it does work best, not in isolation, but when the sustainable packaging message is just one part of a broader environmental brand position. While consumers may not purchase a product simply because it comes in environment-friendly packaging, a blatant disregard for environmental responsibility may be a negative in choosing among alternative products. As consumers’ expectations for corporate sustainability efforts continue to increase, it seems those companies who ignore the green wave, both in their product and its packaging, may miss out on sales.

There could be an even more compelling reason, though, to start thinking about green packaging. As companies across many industries, from computer makers to shoe retailers have discovered, green, or as it is sometimes referred to, sustainable packaging, can reduce production and distribution costs. Computer maker Dell, for example, estimates it will save more than US$8 million and eliminate approximately 20 million pounds of packaging material over the next four years from using green packaging techniques.

That’s a major turnaround in perception. Until recently critics of sustainable packaging pointed to higher cost as a reason for companies to avoid its adoption. Yet a recent article in Industry Week mentions many companies who now use sustainable packaging to achieve cost savings.

The most common path toward savings is by reducing packaging waste, as was the case with Dell. But other industries have used sustainable packaging solutions to cut transportation and storage costs and even reduce the use of ancillary inputs such as water. A simple change to the design of the gallon milk jug, adopted by Wal-Mart and Costco, is a case in point. The new rectangular and stackable design saves space and makes milk packaging, transport, and storage more efficient. This new convention, combined with their shape, allows 4.5 gallons of milk to be stored in the amount of space it once took to store 3 gallons. This means that stores can hold more and the trucks have to make fewer trips. That adds up to less gasoline and less labour. The lesson is simple - if your packaging is simpler and more compact you stand to save money on material cost, labour, warehouse space and shipping.

The appeal of using reusable packaging is also growing. Reusable packaging eliminates one-time use shipping supplies. For example, instead of using wooden pallets to stack and transport products companies are switching to reusable plastic pallets. Another common reusable packaging option is plastic boxes made from recycled plastic in place of corrugated cardboard boxes. Though plastic is usually associated with unsustainability, in this context it has the green advantage: they get reused many times over whereas most damaged wooden pallets end up in landfills after far fewer uses; most plastic pallets are made from recycled material; and most of them can themselves be recycled thus closing the loop.

The benefits of the plastic pallets are more consistent sizing, no missing boards or nails, and a cleaner working environment due to less wooden debris. Companies who are having deliveries rejected because their wooden pallets are in poor condition, have suffered a worker’s injury claim because they had become dangerous or lose product from spills off collapsing wooden pallets would appreciate the potential cost savings of the green plastic version.

By pursuing sustainable packaging initiatives your company will ultimately achieve three important goals: make progress toward an environmentally sustainable production process, improve its appeal to customers and cut costs.