Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility Through Product Packaging

Packaging is a tangible way to communicate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to customers.

Corporate social responsibility is the conscious effort an organization makes to have a positive impact on the environment, economy and society. CSR matters to customers and affects company bottom lines. 

A 2018 global corporate sustainability report by Nielsen found consumers in global markets are motivated to be more environmentally conscious with their purchases. The report found 81% of respondents believed companies should help improve the environment. 

Packaging is a tangible way to communicate CSR to customers. Companies that want to remain competitive should use product packaging as a channel for communicating their CSR efforts.

Why CSR matters

Communicating CSR is a way for companies to increase profits, boost their reputation among consumers and employees, and continually drive product and service innovation. CSR is an important practice for multiple reasons, chief among them:

  • It spurs innovation. CSR inspires businesses to develop ways to make their products and services more sustainable, which can lead to improvements.
  • Customers want it. According to the 2017 Cone Communications CSR study, 87% of consumers will buy something because a company supports an issue that matters to them. The study found 76% of consumers will refuse to purchase products or services if a company supports an issue that does not align with their beliefs.
  • It is important to employees, too. According to a 2017 survey of over 2,000 workers by BetterUp Labs, a San Francisco-based leadership development platform, meaningful work is a top driver of job satisfaction — so much so that 90% of professionals would sacrifice 23% of future earnings for work that is always meaningful.

Additionally, cost savings can be achieved with CSR. Information technology company HP set a goal to ensure all paper-based product packaging would be derived from certified recycled sources by 2020. Working with Billerud, the company optimized the box design with new materials that resulted in using 29% less material, reducing potential carbon dioxide emissions by 5,000 metric tons. It also resulted in cost savings of up to $5 million annually.

Similarly, a manufacturer of outdoor grilling products developed and implemented a new packaging solution from renewable, fiber-based material, the shift resulted in the removal of 47,000 kg of PET plastics each year from the packaging's lifecycle.

What CSR Conveyed via Packaging Looks Like

Various elements can be used for communicating CSR through packaging:

  • Graphics related to sustainability and recyclability. These can include a recycling symbol or graphics from nature, like a tree or leaf. Some companies may also create a graphic that shows the impact of their product on the environment, for example, every purchase of a product resulting in one tree being planted.
  • Text. Companies can use text on packaging to explain CSR efforts.
  • Minimal packaging. Reducing packaging material decreases impact throughout the supply chain. 
  • Repackagability. If the package can be reused, show the consumer how on the packaging.

CSR information on packaging must be verifiable and updated whenever there is a change. Misleading or false information will hurt customer sentiment and sales. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, 63% of global consumers will stop buying from a company they do not trust.

A number of apparel brands have successfully communicated their sustainability efforts through packaging.


converse recycled material sustainable shoes

Source: Converse

Footwear and apparel company Converse outlines how it aims to use sustainable materials, whether they are grown, derived or raised. In 2018, Converse announced 75% of all shoes and clothes now contain some recycled material. The company claims it uses more recycled polyester than any other business in the industry.

Nike (Converse’s parent company) has similarly sustainable packaging. Their Air Max packaging is made from recycled drink containers and lids, which also helped to garner business interest through its unique design that promoted packaging reuse. Nike's traditional corrugated board shoeboxes are recyclable.

“We are constantly integrating more sustainable ways of working across our business. But we recognize that many issues facing business and society are greater than one brand can solve alone. To achieve systemic change we must understand risk and embrace innovation as a way to accelerate positive impacts at scale. Collaboration and unconventional partnerships will be critical to our collective ability to design more sustainable business systems.” 

-Hannah Jones, Nike Chief Sustainability Officer & Vice President


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In 2019, footwear company adidas announced plans to increase the amount of shoes containing recycled plastic from 5 million pairs in 2018 to 11 million pairs in 2019. It also produces apparel containing plastic waste, which is picked up on beaches before it reaches oceans.

Adidas developed a 100% recyclable shoe in 2019, which it is set to release in 2021. Adidas also signed the Climate Protection Charter for the Fashion Industry at the UN Climate Change Conference, agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.

Packaging-wise, adidas stopped using plastic bags in stores in 2016. Adidas shoe boxes are recyclable. When adidas does have to use plastics for tasks such as transport packaging, the company uses counterbalancing measures to make up for the plastics used, the company announced in 2019.

“With adidas products made from recycled plastic, we offer our consumers real added value beyond the look, functionality and quality of the product, because every shoe is a small contribution to the preservation of our oceans. After one million pairs of shoes produced in 2017, five million in 2018, we plan to produce eleven million pairs of shoes containing recycled ocean plastic in 2019.”

Eric Liedtke, adidas Executive Board Member Responsible For Global Brands


Source: H&M

In 2019, fashion brand H&M announced significant strides in sustainability, with 57% of all product materials being created using recycled or other sustainably sourced fibers. That is an increase from 35% in 2018. By 2020, the company aims to use 100% recycled cotton, up from 95% in 2019.

Sustainable packaging is also important to the company. H&M has a policy that any paper used from fiber from countries with tropical rainforests must be Forest Stewardship Council certified. This is an example of a certification that can be used on packaging for communicating CSR.

H&M also has a circular packaging strategy, which includes reducing the amount of packaging used and increasing material reuse and recycling. The business has set a goal that all packaging will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and the company will use 100% recycled and other sustainably sourced materials in packaging by 2030.

“As a major player in the industry, we are well-positioned to not only be part of but to also lead the change on this journey. One area that we have been focusing on for awhile is the shift from a linear to a circular business model, where we have the ambition to become fully circular. We are also constantly innovating and developing our sustainability work in line with other developments in the industry.”

 -Anna Gedda, H&M Head of Sustainability

Working Together Toward CSR

Corporate social responsibility is inherently good for society and the planet as a whole. That is why businesses need to come together to promote CSR. As more customers are informed about the benefits, sales for companies promoting those values will also benefit.

At Billerud we work with other organizations to promote innovation, improve sustainability and share best practices across industries:



Managed Packaging

Billerud is listed in the top 10% of companies in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

We are members of the UN’s Global Compact, and we combat corruption, promote environmentalism and fight for employee rights.

We support ActionAid, which enables our employees to make donations that result in free lunches for at-risk families. 

We thoroughly vet our suppliers to ensure they are aligned with our values of quality, sustainability and commercial performance.

We participate in the Sustainergies Cup, which promotes student sustainability innovation. 

With numerous qualified packaging partners, we have become the single point of contact for some of the biggest brands in the world.

We are involved in Project White-Backed Woodpecker, which  aims to support the endangered white-backed woodpecker bird. 

We help brands eliminate waste, and our improvements have earned brands millions of dollars in direct and indirect savings.

Our partnership with Tara Ocean Foundation is focused on exploring the impact of plastic on our seas. 

We drive supply chain efficiency in operations and management. Our managed packaging solutions reduce the costs of suppliers, origin operations, carriera, brokerage, transport, distribution and retail.


We believe that partnerships and strategic working relationships with other organizations will help us better tackle global sustainability challenges.

Making CSR a Priority

A CSR strategy is key for businesses that want to stay competitive. An ING Sustainability Study 2018 found 80% of companies surveyed had formal sustainability strategies in place, and 48% said sustainability concerns impact their growth strategies. The study also found that 87% of companies with integrated sustainability frameworks have experienced revenue growth over the past year, which is 20% more than those with less-integrated sustainability strategies.

Your efforts can increase revenue, improve sentiment with customers and employees, and ultimately help the planet. At Billerud, we are passionate about helping the planet. We help brands realize CSR initiatives throughout their packaging supply chain by taking a strategic approach to sustainability.

Learn more about sustainable packaging and how it can reduce your environmental impact. Download our Designing a Sustainable Packaging Program eBook today.

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