Sustainability is on consumers’ minds, from whether the beef in their burger is grass-fed, to whether the coffee they are drinking is grown and sold under fair trade practices. Likewise, conservation is a concern for restaurant operators, from what kind of refrigeration is used, to how the store is lit.
Restaurants—even fast-food establishments—are part of the local community. This brings positive effects such as choices and job creation, but it also means another business contributing to a city’s waste management and pollution issues. As more restaurant operators seek to address the social and environmental justice issues surrounding food, sustainable packaging represents a unique opportunity to positively impact branding.
“There is a growing level of sensitivity around these objects,” says Jay Hunsberger, vice president of sales for North America at Sustana. “If you use paper goods as the vehicle to deliver a product, people want to know if it’s reusable and recyclable, but also if it has any recycled content.”
Hunsberger says that it is often easier for restaurant operators to think about sustainability in terms of energy use, since this often translates to lower utility bills or rebates from government. Sustainable packaging however, requires and demonstrates a deeper level of commitment—one that is tangible and that customers can literally hold in their hands.
“Imagine having your coffee,” Hunsberger says. “There’s a story printed on the cup about the farmer who grew the beans on the cup, your name is written on it, too, and you are actually touching and interacting with the cup. Now, the cup not only holds a beverage, but the packaging itself makes a statement about how the company views its role in the world and connects it to the individual.”
Packaging can communicate a brand’s ethos in a subtle, yet powerful way, where the object itself is the statement. Companies such as Starbucks, Ben & Jerry’s, and Newman’s Own—which put a colossal effort into making sure their products are sustainably sourced—are now looking at packaging and how to move their products. “Packaging is the next level of commitment to a sustainable space,” Hunsberger says.
Like anything that touches food directly, to-go cups and boxes must be FDA-compliant. Sustana offers a unique option for restaurant operators searching for sustainable packaging solutions—the company’s EnviroLife material is the only 100 percent post-consumer recycled, FDA-compliant fiber in North America created for use in direct food contact packaging at 100 percent inclusion. “This means the material has been out in the world and served its purpose, has been collected via recycling efforts including home collection, and then is remade into a completely new product—perhaps a microwave popcorn bag or a beverage cup,” Hunsberger says.
For restaurants looking to differentiate their brand and attract environmentally-conscious consumers, packaging is an excellent way to demonstrate concern for the earth. “Only a small percentage of companies lead change,” Hunsberger says. “Sustainable packaging is a very strong way to message and reinforce your company’s strategic agenda when it comes to sustainability.”