The sustainability boom: How glass is good for the bottom line and the environment.

Jim Nordmeyer – Vice President, Global Sustainability

It wasn’t all that long ago that the notion of sustainability was paid only lip service in business circles. Only if you had a very specific target market of the environmentally conscious, then sure, maybe it made sense to embrace environmental impact as a core marketing principle. But when appealing to a mass market, conventional wisdom was that sustainability was one of those things consumers claimed mattered while their behavior told another story. How times have changed.

Today, caring about your bottom line means caring about the environment because your customers sure do. Two-thirds of Americans now say they recycle on a “regular basis” and that number is trending upward as more millennials move into the workforce and gain greater sway over the economy. These market forces and consumer preferences for sustainable products position glass as the ideal packaging option for businesses that wish to appeal to today’s eco-conscious consumer.

Small footprint, big impact.

The first thing to understand about sustainability is that it refers to myriad ways in which a product or process can impact the environment. Carbon footprint (a measure of greenhouse gasses emitted) is one way. On average, a glass container has a smaller footprint over its lifecycle than aluminum or PET containers. This measure takes into account not just the raw materials themselves, but the process by which those materials are used to create a package.

Cradle to Cradle.

A package’s composition is another way to measure its sustainability, and glass is made from three abundant and natural ingredients – sand, limestone and soda ash. When it breaks down it remains safe and stable, releasing no harmful chemicals into the soil. So even when glass isn’t recycled it does minimal harm to the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification as a top-tier product sustainability standard in its new federal green purchasing guidelines. Companies like O-I have achieved a gold rating material health on the Cradle to Cradle Product Scorecard – a premier sustainability certification for products around the world and across industries.

Round and round.

Of course, when it comes to recycling, glass is among the most recyclable materials on the planet – 100% recyclable, in fact. Which is probably why 80% of all recovered glass bottles are made into new glass bottles. Why does this matter? Because every 10% increase in recycled glass results in a 5% decrease in emissions and a 3% decrease in energy consumption.

The bottom line.

The evidence is clear that using glass packaging is good for the environment. But is it good for business? These days the answer is an unequivocal yes. Ninety percent of consumers say that recycling materials is important, and two-thirds of them are willing to pay a little more for eco-friendly and socially responsible products. More and more consumers are putting their money where their beliefs are, and a company that shows it’s being environmentally responsible is a company that stands a greater chance to earn and keep the brand loyalty of today’s eco-conscious consumers.

Beyond the environment.

Where you find customers who are concerned about what they put into the earth, you’ll also find customers who are concerned about what they put into their body. Seven in 10 consumers report that health plays a significant role in their product purchasing decisions, and more than 60% have altered their buying habits to reduce their exposure to harmful chemicals. Because glass is the only packaging material to earn the GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) designation from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration *, consumers can trust that glass adds nothing harmful to their favorite beers, wines and liquors.

Times have changed and today’s customer is more aware of what goes into the earth, their products and their body than ever before. This age of information brings with it great opportunities for those who lean into the sustainability of their product packaging. Glass, with all its eco-friendly attributes, is more than just a package. It’s a motivating force when it comes to creating and sustaining brand loyalty.

Sources: Killinger, Jennifer. “New Survey: Half of Americans Say They Recycle 75 Percent or More of Recyclable Items.” New Survey: Half of Americans Say They Recycle 75 Percent or More of Recyclable Items, American Chemistry Council, 14 Nov. 2014, www.americanchemistry.com/Media/PressReleasesTranscripts/ACC-news-releases/New-Survey-Half-of-Americans-Say-They-Recycle-75-Percent-or-More-of-Recyclable-Items.html