It’s chic right now to talk about ‘green’ marketing. Some companies do it by creating alternative versions of their products that are less harmful to the environment, and some by ‘greenwashing‘ (i.e. trumpeting small environmental wins in the hopes that larger sins will go unnoticed). Others may be tapping into this trend unintentionally.
Take our favourite brand of mustard. Known in our family only as “Dangerous Mustard” (so dubbed by my then-seven-year-old stepson for its strong taste), Kuhne mustard won a recurring spot in our grocery list not only for its distinctive taste, but also for its unique packaging: glass jars with no threaded tops – perfect for reuse as tumblers.
Kuhne’s jars are an elegant shape and the perfect size to fit the hand. They are sturdy and simple. We have accumulated quite a collection, used daily as no-stem wine glasses and water glasses in our home. It’s not something Kuhne talks about in its marketing or trumpets on the label. I don’t even know if they’re thinking about the reusability as a selling point. Yet while we do love the taste of their mustard, what has kept us buying Kuhne (and thus not taste-testing other gourmet mustard brands) is this collectable packaging. As another Vancouver blogger, Technoracle, points out, Kuhne is one of only a few brands (Catelli being another) who uses fully reusable packaging for their products.
Alas, Kuhne appears to have been led astray. We were shocked to discover recently that Kuhne’s bell-shaped jars now have a screw top. The threaded mouth means it’s no longer suitable as a drinking glass, and this seemingly small change has had a big impact on our loyalty to the brand. Buying non-Kuhne mustard was once unthinkable, both because we liked the taste and because we knew we’d get some good mileage for our purchase through reuse of the glass jar. Now that the jar will be going in the recycling like any other mustard jar, Kuhne in my mind is now just one of many kinds of mustard.
So here’s where I bring it back to green marketing. I’d like to see more long-term thinking from companies in terms of product packaging. It’s nice that a ‘green’ version of your product isn’t quite as toxic as the regular version that gets the bulk of your TV ad dollars, but it would really be something for companies to make it easier for people to reduce and reuse, as well as recycle. By planning product design so that it can effortlessly have a second life as something else once your product is used up, companies make it vastly easier for consumers to reduce the amount of trash in the landfill.
Manufacturers can take their cues from existing behaviours and consumer hacks: whether you intended your mustard jars to be reused as glasses or not, it becomes a product differentiator if they are. Another example would be things like yogurt containers, which many people reuse as lunch & leftover containers even though the plastic isn’t rated for reuse. If that’s how people use your product, why not deliberately package for reuse?
Ipsos Reid recently asked people what actions they would be likely to take in the next six months to protect the environment. The most popular answer (depressingly, only selected by 51% of people ) was to reuse jars or containers. But another 50% said they would seek out products with recyclable packaging, and many of the other popular responses also indicated a desire to reduce extra packaging or choose reusable items over disposables.
It’s time companies took responsibility for what happens to their product and packaging once its original purpose is done. Thinking creatively about packaging items in the most efficient way possible should mean both reducing excess waste and planning for packaging that can easily be repurposed for new use.