Michigan Ross Professor Aradhna Krishna Confronts Overpackaging and the Illusion of Sustainability
While paper packaging is often seen as the sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative to plastic, new research by Aradhna Krishna, Dwight F. Benton Professor of Marketing at the Ross School of Business, has revealed that excess paper packaging often creates the illusion of sustainability without actually reducing plastic waste.
In an article published in the Harvard Business Review, Krishna and her colleague, Tatiana Sokolova from the Tilburg School of Economics and Management, explore how consumers’ perceptions of sustainability impact their behaviors. They found that consumers will perceive a product as more environmentally friendly if it is visibly packaged in paper, even if the paper packaging is superfluous and encases additional plastic packaging. This overpackaging targets consumers who are environmentally conscious while actually contributing more waste to landfills.
Krishna also explored marketing solutions to the issue of overpackaging, though noted that those solutions must be complemented by genuine investment in sustainability. One solution that was offered was “minimal packaging” labels to signal a brand’s commitment to responsible packaging. This kind of messaging is proving effective and has also already been adopted by many brands.