Eco-Conscious Economy: Consumer Data Reveals Young Shoppers Prioritize Sustainability

Generation Z and Millennial consumers are more likely to pay a premium for products that are legitimately sustainable in some way, from materials to packaging to delivery. The third annual Consumer Sustainability Survey from Blue Yonder, a digital supply chain platform, confirms that sustainability remains a priority for all consumers. However, younger shoppers are more definitive and consistent in their choices, with 85% of Gen Z and 84% of Millennials reporting that sustainability considerations are important to them. 

“It’s especially promising that so many respondents are willing to spend more for sustainable products, given that price concerns, exacerbated by the ongoing challenge of inflation, have marked conversations around consumer behavior over the last year,” said Saskia van Gendt, Blue Yonder’s chief sustainability officer, in a statement. “Their willingness to spend more should send a clear message to brands and retailers that investing in sustainable solutions and practices is worthwhile, not only for the planet but also for maintaining consumer loyalty and trust.” 

78% of U.S.-based poll respondents said that sustainability concerns are very or somewhat important to them when choosing to buy a product or shop at a retailer. And 70% of consumers said they have shopped at a retailer promoting their products as sustainable at least once in the past six months. Almost half (47%) reported that their interest in shopping sustainably increased in the last year, and 40% said they would pay up to an additional 5%, and 25% said they would pay an additional 10% or more. 

Skepticism about sustainability claims remains high

Interestingly, consumer skepticism remains high regarding sustainability marketing and messaging. If consumers are going to pay more, they need to verify claims for themselves. 

Nearly half (48%) of respondents said they can only “sometimes” trust a brand’s sustainability claims, depending on its message, brand reputation and history. More than one-third (35%) of respondents said they do not trust brands’ claims, citing the need for their own additional research (21%) and the belief that brands tout sustainability regardless of whether it aligns with their actions (14%). 

An ESW report released in April said that US consumers are less sustainability-minded than they were just one year ago. The overall score dropped from 51 on the index to 49, and lagging behind the global mean of 55. However, US Millennials (59) and Gen Z (57) scored above the global mean, whereas Gen X (50), and Boomers (35) scored lower. 

Globally, consumer trust in sustainability claims is low, which could be adding to lowered interest in sustainability overall. According to The Blue Yonder survey, 70% reported shopping sustainably in the last year, vs. 74% in 2023. The ESW numbers reveal that, globally, more than half of the consumers surveyed (55%) said they are more aware of greenwashing than they were a year ago, and 27% said they considered a brand’s environmental transparency record when making a purchase. 

Consumer trust and truth in advertising are key to a healthy economy, which is why greenwashing is so harmful. If consumers can’t discern which companies are truly engaged in ethical environmentally-friendly commerce, they won’t support the industries making the most positive impact. To that end, Two Sides has engaged with more than 300 North American companies to combat misinformation by changing or removing misleading environmental claims used to promote electronic services over paper-based communications. Globally, the Two Sides Anti-greenwashing Campaign has persuaded more than 1,180 companies, government agencies and other organizations to remove statements that are unsubstantiated. 

Greener packaging is a priority

According to the Blue Yonder survey, 47% of consumers said they would be likely or very likely to pay more for greener shipping options such as lower carbon footprint delivery and sustainable packaging. 61% of consumers said using recycled content or recycled packaging was the most important environmental practice a retailer or brand should adopt.  

According to TSNA’s own research released in 2023, in addition to expressing an overall preference for paper-based packaging, 56% of consumers prefer that items ordered online be delivered in paper packaging, up from 52% in 2021. 50% say they are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper-based packaging, up from 41%. 47% would avoid shopping with a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce its use of non-recyclable packaging, up from 39%. 

Overall, the data underscores consistent consumer behavior toward sustainability, particularly among younger generations. Generation Z and Millennials’ willingness to pay a premium for sustainable products sends a clear message to brands and retailers about the importance of investing in sustainable solutions. Greener options and the use of recyclable materials have become increasingly pivotal, with a significant portion of consumers willing to pay more for sustainable options.  

While skepticism persists regarding sustainability claims, consumers prioritize transparency and ethical practices, highlighting the necessity for truthful advertising. Ultimately, fostering consumer trust and aligning with environmentally friendly practices not only benefits the planet but also strengthens brand loyalty, thus contributing to a healthier economy.

Booksellers and Librarians Agree: Young Readers are Fueling the Printed Book Boom

Millennials and Gen Z are known as “robust samplers,” meaning they are accustomed to a risk-free subscription model for media consumption. Think Netflix, Amazon Unlimited, Audible, and Spotify.  

As it turns out, according to a new report from the American Library Association (ALA), “in the traditional, print-centered book publishing ecosystem, libraries are the place for robust sampling.” 

According to the new report Gen Z and Millennials: How They Use Public Libraries and Identify Through Media Use, Gen Z and Millennials (roughly ages 13 to 40) are using public libraries, both in person and digitally, at higher rates than older generations.   

The report and survey data show that 54% of Gen Z and Millennials visited a physical library within the previous 12 months. The data also revealed younger Americans’ preference for physical versions of books – they read and buy twice as many print books per month than older generations. In fact, print books are Gen Z’s number one preferred book format, and both Gen Z and Millennials are consuming books: on average, they buy and read one ebook, one audiobook, and two print books per month. Gen Zers purchase and read more than Millennials in all formats, the survey revealed – and even more interestingly – the younger Gen Z’s are, the more print books they buy. 

“Libraries are popular among Gen Z and Millennials, even among self-identified non-readers. [They] want and need the resources public libraries offer,” said Kathi Inman Berens, Ph.D., who co-authored the report with Rachel Noorda, Ph.D., both of Portland State University. “Just as they flit between multiple media formats, they also jump between modes of access: libraries to bookstores to influencer posts to subscriptions, and back again. Libraries are a notable way Gen Z and Millennials discover books.”  

The survey’s data does show that younger readers slightly prefer bookstores to libraries for printed book discovery. “The instant availability of popular titles and the shopping experience would seem to be the most important differentiators between bookstores and libraries; however, the most popular print books at the library are less likely to be on the shelves for patrons,” according to the report. 

McKinsey’s recent insights revealed that Gen Z “has helped catalyze a literature revival.” Book sales following the pandemic set records, especially in young adult fiction, which increased 30.7 percent in 2021. Hook Research reported that YA fiction print sales have increased by 48.2% since 2018. The category experienced huge jumps in sales during the pandemic, growing by 24.7% in 2020 and 27.5% in 2021.  

In 2023, sales of YA books and their circulation in libraries saw a slight decline – and in the first quarter of 2024, a steep one – but according to those in reading and publishing circles, that doesn’t necessarily equate to a decline in interest in reading paper books. A scarcity of lightweight, inexpensive paperbacks readily available on library shelves may contribute to the decline, even though paperback sales continue to be the lion’s share of YA/Children’s revenue.

Unsurprisingly, Gen Z and Millennials rely heavily on social media for book recommendations and community connection around authors and series, with the youngest readers popularizing the global hashtag #booktok. Printed books have proven to make good props in visual media like TikTok short videos and Instagram Reels. Many #booktoks focus on the materiality of the printed book, with the influencers holding books, showing videos of abundant page markers and margin notes, or building a home library. One video features a homemade book advent calendar with 24 wrapped books to unbox over the month.  

The success of algorithm-powered digital marketing helps to explain why over 30% of Gen Z and Millennials in the ALA survey buy books based on recommendations from Instagram and TikTok reviews and ads.  

Also, in 2023, membership in the American Booksellers Association (ABA) reached its highest level in more than 20 years. The ABA added 173 members in 2022 and had 2,185 bookstore businesses and 2,599 locations last year – nearly 300 more members than it had in 2019. 

Young readers cite eye strain, digital detoxing, and – again – their love of libraries as reasons for the shift to traditional book buying and reading habits that helped to skyrocket book sales in the US to a record of more than 843 million units in 2021, 789 million in 2022 and 767.36, in 2023, the three highest sales years in the last two decades. 

Want to read more about the value and appeal of print and paper products? Visit the TSNA website to access more industry reports like our annual Trend Tracker Report. which seeks to understand changing consumer preferences, perceptions and attitudes toward print, paper, and paper-based packaging.

 

From Plastic to Paper: The Eco-Conscious Evolution of North American Packaging Trends

In recent years, there has been a significant shift in the packaging industry. First in the UK and Europe, and now US and Canadian brands are moving towards paper-based packaging solutions. This transition reflects a growing corporate commitment to environmental sustainability, increased regulations and penalties for using plastic, and a desire to meet consumer demand for packaging that is both sustainable and easier to recycle, knowing it is not going into landfills.

All of these motivators drive a growing movement to support a more circular economy, which is one based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products, especially as a means of sustainably continuing production.

Environmental Consciousness Drives Change

One of the primary reasons behind the shift towards paper-based packaging is a heightened awareness of environmental issues, particularly the impact of plastic pollution on the planet. While plastic packaging is convenient and versatile, it poses significant environmental challenges. Plastic is made from non-renewable petroleum-based materials – it is non-biodegradable, contributes to litter and marine pollution, is difficult to recycle and is harmful to humans and wildlife.

Paper-based packaging offers several environmental benefits, making it an attractive alternative to plastic. Unlike plastic, paper is renewable, biodegradable, and recyclable, making it a more sustainable option from a lifecycle perspective. Additionally, advancements in paper packaging technology have led to the development of innovative products that offer the same functionality and protection as traditional plastic packaging, further driving the adoption of paper-based materials.

Consumer Preferences Lead the Way

Consumer preferences play a crucial role in shaping the packaging choices made by brands. Surveys have consistently shown that most consumers prefer paper-based packaging over plastic for its perceived environmental benefits. This shift in consumer sentiment has prompted brands to reevaluate their packaging strategies and prioritize materials that are perceived as more eco-friendly. Additionally, market trends indicate a significant increase in demand for paper-based packaging, driven by concerns about plastic pollution and a desire for more sustainable alternatives.

A survey commissioned by Two Sides North America revealed that 55% of US consumers would buy more from brands and retailers who remove plastic from their packaging, up from 49% in 2021. Half said they are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper packaging, up from 41% over the past two years, and 47% said they would consider avoiding a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging, up from 39% in 2021. In addition, disposal decision fatigue is real–consumers preferred paper/cardboard packaging for being home-compostable (59%) and easier to recycle (43%).

Corporate sustainability goals driven by consumer demand are a primary motivator in the shift from plastic to paper. Wayne Towle, sales manager at fiber-packaging supplier Planet Paper Box Group, recently told Packaging Digest, “All the major players in all the major CPG companies have some form of sustainability goals factored into their business model. It is becoming more of a necessity for companies to do that.”

Government Regulations Hasten Shift

Recent data from pulp and paper business intelligence company Fisher International cites several market factors driving the switch to paper packaging, including legislation in the U.S., Canada, and across the globe.

“Certain single-use plastics (e.g., drinking straws, coffee stirrers, plastic bottles, plates, cups, utensils, shopping bags) have been identified as leading contributors to plastic pollution and are the target of most legislation.”

Twenty-three states in the US have some form of plastic bag legislation, and several cities have banned plastic straws. In Canada, the Single-Use Plastics Prohibition Regulations (SUPPR) were introduced as a larger comprehensive plan to achieve zero plastic waste by 2030 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Big Brands Make the Switch

Several brands based or prominent in North America have embraced paper-based packaging as part of their commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship. These include L’Oreal, Zappos, Pringles, Absolute, Apple, Nestle, Samsung, and Amazon. Although these are U.S.-based business giants, packaging innovation has often been initiated in Europe due to stricter penalties and regulations around plastic-based packaging. But North American roll-outs have picked up steam.

Iconic fast-food chain McDonald’s announced plans to phase in more sustainable, recycled, and recyclable alternatives to their current packaging, including paper-based materials. According to the company, which serves 69 million people worldwide each year, McDonald’s has set a goal of sourcing 100% of its primary guest packaging from renewable, recycled, or certified sources and expanding the reduction and recycling of guest packaging by the end of 2025.

An Amazon facility in Ohio uses machine learning to customize box sizes to eliminate plastic packaging fillers. The research was launched in Washington State’s Amazon innovation center, and upgrades will roll out in North America this year. Technology like this could skyrocket the use of paper and cardboard packaging across industries.

Paper Fits the Bill

In so many ways, paper has become the ideal packaging material, offering businesses, manufacturers and consumers a simplified experience that cuts cost and time and is naturally sustainable.

Consumer preference. Consumers prefer goods packaged in materials that are easy to recycle or safe to compost. They don’t want the inconvenience of stripping off labels or driving to a retail store to recycle plastic bags and clamshell containers.

Circular economy. Paper is a bedrock of a circular economy as it promotes the reuse and regeneration of packaging. Paper can be recycled five to seven times, on average, before fibers become unusable. Paper is biodegradable and compostable. In fact, clean cardboard adds valuable dry materials to the composting process.

Sustainable forestry. The US paper industry promotes sustainable forestry and depends on sustainable forest growth to provide a reliable wood fiber supply. By providing a dependable market for responsibly grown fiber, the paper industry encourages landowners to continue managing their forestland instead of selling it for development or other non-forest uses. In the United States, we grow more trees than we harvest, and US forests are a renewable natural resource and are not shrinking. Net forest area in the United States increased by approximately 18 million acres between 1990 and 2020 – an area equivalent to approximately 1,200 NFL football fields every day.

In Canada, all areas harvested on public land must be reforested through replanting or natural regeneration, and about 90% of Canada’s forests are on public land. Canada leads the world in third-party sustainable forest certification.

Energy consumption. According to the American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA), purchased energy is the third highest operating cost for the paper and wood products industry, motivating the industry to increase energy efficiency and use less energy overall. In 2020, AF&PA member pulp and paper mills self-generated 58% of the electricity needed to power their mills. They surpassed their collective goal for energy efficiency by reducing purchased energy by more than 13% between 2005 and 2020. Among the sustainability goals outlined in AF&PA’s Better Practices, Better Planet 2030, one is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50%.

Similar efforts are being made in Canada to become more energy efficient. Most of the energy used at Canadian pulp and paper mills is generated using renewable, carbon-neutral biomass. Since the early 1990s, the Canadian forest sector has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70%.

Choosing Paper

The shift towards paper-based packaging among US and Canadian brands reflects consumers, governments, and corporations’ broadening commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility. By choosing paper, these brands are not only meeting consumer demand for more eco-friendly products but also contributing to the preservation of the planet for future generations.

Two Sides Global Campaign Reports Increasing Greenwashing as Organizations Focus on Sustainability

Two Sides has challenged over 2,650 organizations found to be communicating greenwashing messages to their customers. Over 1,180 organizations have, so far, removed misleading anti-paper statements.

PORTLAND, Ore. – April 25, 2024 – Economic pressures remain the driver for greenwashing, and many organizations that have relied on paper to communicate with their customers are increasingly transitioning consumers from traditional paper-based services to digital platforms to reduce costs. The switch to digital is often justified by misleading and unsubstantiated environmental marketing messages such as; “Go Green – Go Paperless” or “Choose e-billing and help save a tree,” but this is Greenwashing.

A Two Sides Greenwashing Study in 2022 revealed that 65% of US consumers who have seen greenwashing claims are influenced to switch from paper to electronic communications. Furthermore, data from the 2023 Two Sides Trend Tracker Survey showed that 81% of consumers believe they should have the right to choose how they receive bills and statements.

With increasing focus on corporate sustainability, other sectors – such as tissue and paper-based packaging – now experience greenwashing with the misleading and unsubstantiated marketing of products claiming to be more sustainable for many reasons, including new and alternative sources of fiber.

Two Sides North America Executive Director, Jules Van Sant says, “These greenwashing claims violate established environmental marketing regulations and are hugely damaging for an industry known for its strong and consistently progressive environmental record. A healthy market for forest products such as paper encourages the long-term growth of forests through sustainable forest management. Many of the organizations we challenge are surprised to learn that US forests have actually been growing by the equivalent of 1,200 football fields every day.”

Globally, Two Sides has engaged over 2,650 Organizations making misleading statements about paper. In North America, nearly 200 companies, including many Fortune 500 companies, have removed unsubstantiated claims about paper.

Two Sides estimates that, due to the vast reach of some of these organizations, unsubstantiated claims have a long-lasting damaging effect on consumer perceptions of paper and threaten a US industry that employs over 925,000 people and supports more than 2 million additional jobs throughout the supply chain.

The Anti-greenwash campaign continues to be a priority for Two Sides and urges companies not to use unsubstantiated and misleading environmental claims about going paperless in all of their communications.

“We are grateful for the openness, communication and cooperation when we present the facts around the use of paper, print, mail and paper-based packaging. But we have more work to do! As a result of our outreach, hundreds of organizations have changed or eliminated these misleading greenwashing claims from their messaging. Our industry stakeholders, Two Sides members, supporters and informed consumers help keep our work at the forefront. We are thankful for those who send us examples of greenwashing – keep them coming,” Van Sant concludes.

Please send any instances of greenwash to our Anti-Greenwashing Claim Submission Form.

For more information about our anti-greenwashing campaign, visit Anti-Greenwashing Campaign – Two Sides North America (twosidesna.org).

About Two Sides

Two Sides is a not-for-profit, global initiative promoting the unique, sustainable, and attractive attributes of print, paper, and paper packaging. Its members span the entire value chain, including forestry, pulp, paper, packaging, inks and chemicals, finishing, publishing, printing, envelopes, and postal operators.

For more information about the anti-greenwash campaign or to learn more about Two Sides, please contact us at info@twosidesna.org.

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Paper Greetings are America’s Calling Card

In the age of digital dominance, a surprising and heartwarming trend defies the wave—millennials’ and Gen Z’s preference for physical greeting cards. Even though these generations are digital natives, recent studies and surveys reveal that many prefer the tangible charm and personalization of paper greeting cards over their e-counterparts.

According to a recent poll from online card and gift giant Shutterfly1, more than half (54%) of Americans say they still mail their greeting cards versus sending via digital and social platforms.

The new survey of 2,000 U.S. adults split evenly by generation revealed that two out of three prefer to receive physical cards as opposed to digital ones, including younger respondents who are millennials (62%) or are part of Gen Z (59%). Personalization was a big deal to survey respondents, preferring to include family, vacation, or pet photos with cards.

So, what exactly is driving this preference?

One of the key factors contributing to the sustained popularity of paper greeting cards is the emotional resonance they carry. Recent industry research has shown that about 80% of people keep cards that represent a life or relationship milestone. And over the years–especially since the pandemic–young people have taken the reins on greeting card messaging, launching independent lines that have found their way into retailers large and small. Many prefer cards that speak to their specific problems and joyful moments that haven’t been largely seen in traditional greeting cards. 

Retail insights on consumer habits2 support the idea that there is demand for traditional greeting cards, and demand for personalization, digital integration, and representation. To that end, Hallmark Video Greetings launched in early 2022. Card buyers can scan a QR code in the physical card, and once they’re online, they can add videos or photos and invite others to join via email or text. Once everyone’s content is submitted, Hallmark stitches it together into one video, which the recipient can view by scanning the QR code. The big two–Hallmark and American Greetings–are also meeting the demand for representation by diversifying their offerings to reflect North America’s modern demographics.

A year into the pandemic, the industry found millennials and Gen Zs not only wanting to connect with people they couldn’t see in person but also experiencing screen fatigue and activity looking for ways to describe their unique experiences in the world. And this generation is more likely to send a card just because it fits the recipient, letting go of pressure around card-centered holidays like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Like previous generations without digital options, people today appreciate the effort and intentionality required to select, customize, and send a paper card. It becomes a tangible representation of the relationship between the sender and the recipient, making the experience more meaningful and enduring.

Small businesses use cards to build relationships

Small businesses also continue to send an enormous number of holiday cards each year. A 2022 report from the Greeting Card Association3 shows that one-third of companies send a holiday greeting, and 87% of them are physical, not e-cards. This adds up to an estimated 150 million greeting cards mailed by small businesses during the winter holiday season, and those rates are likely to remain constant or slightly grow. 

The vast majority of small businesses that send physical holiday cards send them to current customers to show gratitude and build relationships. Given that direct mail is much more likely to get a meaningful response than email or other digital outreach, building relationships with greeting cards during the holidays is a sound business decision.

The preference for paper greeting cards among consumers and businesses is a testament to the timeless appeal of tangible expressions. In a fast-paced digital world, the intentional act of sending and receiving physical cards has become a powerful and cherished tradition.

 

Shutterfly Report, Nov. 2023 https://nypost.com/2023/11/09/lifestyle/millennials-gen-z-still-prefer-physical-greeting-cards-over-digital-ones/

Canadian Grocer Report, Feb. 2023 https://canadiangrocer.com/digital-driving-consumer-habits-there-still-value-traditional-greeting-cards

Small Business Use of Greeting Cards, Greeting Card Association 2022 White Paper https://omsgca.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Lind_WhitePaper-GreetingCards-2022-v1d-1.pdf

Cardboard Comes Out On Top

Consumer Preference and Industry Efforts Pave the Way for Corrugated Boxes

As consumers increasingly voice their environmental concerns, industries worldwide are actively seeking sustainable alternatives to reduce their carbon footprint. Not surprisingly, corrugated cardboard packaging has emerged as an environmentally sustainable choice, boasting benefits that other packaging materials simply can’t match. Reports and surveys, including a comprehensive life cycle assessment (LCA) recently published by the National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) and the 2023 US Trend Tracker Survey commissioned by Two Sides North America, shed light on the environmental impact of cardboard packaging and illustrate why it is fast becoming the preferred choice of brands and consumers around the globe.

Published in October 2023, the 2020 Life Cycle Assessment of U.S. Average Corrugated Product found that the corrugated packaging industry has achieved substantial reductions in the environmental impacts of a typical corrugated cardboard box. 

Specifically, the LCA shows a 50% per unit reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2006 and 2020, tackling the most urgent and predominant causes of climate change. Meaningful reductions were also achieved in ozone depletion (13%), energy usage (13%), water usage (18%), acid rain (41%), smog (44%), respiratory effects (54%), and eutrophication, which leads to algae blooms and dead zones in bodies of water (30%).

The industry achieved this progress through energy improvements, the creation of a strong recycling infrastructure, sustainably managed forests, and a commitment to continuous environmental improvement. The industry continues to shift to cleaner burning fuel, has increased its participation in a greener U.S. electric grid, and made investments in energy efficiency. 

cardboard boxes

Raw Materials

Cardboard packaging is a standout choice in terms of raw material sustainability. Using wood fiber from purpose-grown, sustainably managed forests ensures that the extraction process is both responsible and renewable. The LCA reveals that sustainable forestry practices, when paired with efficient management, contribute to the overall favorable environmental profile of cardboard packaging.

The fresh wood fiber used to manufacture cardboard, which is continually renewed in sustainably managed forests, aids in the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while recycling old corrugated cardboard avoids carbon dioxide and methane emissions from landfills. This combination of fresh and recycled fibers in cardboard production maximizes fiber reuse and enables circularity. 

Manufacturing Processes

Significant advances in manufacturing technology and processes have increased efficiency and decreased energy consumption in cardboard production, leading to reduced environmental impacts. In addition, the industry’s proactive approach to water recycling and conservation, along with the increased use of renewable energy, further reduces cardboard’s environmental footprint. 

Transportation and Distribution

Cardboard’s lightweight nature contributes to lower transportation costs and emissions compared to heavier packaging materials. Lighter weights translate into lower fuel consumption during transportation, thereby decreasing the overall carbon footprint. This is particularly crucial in a globalized economy where goods are transported over long distances.

End-of-Life Considerations

Cardboard’s recyclability is a critical factor in its circular life cycle, and the corrugated industry has enabled increasingly higher recycling rates with billions of dollars in voluntary infrastructure investment over the past 30 years.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cardboard is the most recycled packaging material in the United States. The American Forest and Paper Association reports that the recycling rate for cardboard boxes was more than 93% in 2022.  

Consumer Trends and Attitudes: Insights from the 2023 US Trend Tracker Survey

In January 2023, Two Sides North America commissioned its biennial Trend Tracker Survey to better understand changing consumer preferences, perceptions and attitudes toward print, paper and paper-based packaging. The survey, conducted by international research firm Toluna,  showed a growing awareness among U.S. consumers about the environmental impacts of packaging materials and a preference for sustainable packaging. 

The survey findings reveal that consumers prefer products with paper or cardboard packaging for various reasons, including its ease of recycling and home composting. Half of consumers believe paper-based packaging is better for the environment than other types of packaging, including plastic, glass and metal. In addition to expressing an overall preference for paper-based packaging, 56% of consumers prefer that items ordered online be delivered in paper packaging, up from 52% in 2021. 50% say they are actively taking steps to increase their use of paper-based packaging, up from 41%. 47% would avoid shopping with a retailer that is not actively trying to reduce its use of non-recyclable packaging, up from 39%.

Environmental Misconceptions

Despite the expanding body of scientific evidence supporting the inherent sustainability of paper-based packaging and consumers’ efforts to make sustainable choices, many misconceptions about cardboard and its effects on the environment remain. You can help set the record straight by arming yourself with the facts. To learn more, visit www.twosidesna.org/mythsandfacts.

Two Sides North America Survey: U.S. Consumers’ Preference for Print Media Shows Post-pandemic Gains

DAYTON, Ohio – June 1, 2023 – Print media saw significant disruption during the coronavirus pandemic as many people moved online for news and information, but consumers’ preference for receiving and reading print on paper has rebounded over the past two years. This according to a new survey commissioned by Two Sides North America and conducted by global research firm Toluna.

“Some observers predicted that people who switched from paper to digital media during the pandemic would never return, but this has not been the case,” says Two Sides North America President Kathi Rowzie. “Across every category of media included in the survey, from books and magazines to newspapers and product catalogs, consumers’ preference for paper has increased since 2021.”

The 2023 Two Sides Trend Tracker Survey asked consumers how they prefer to receive and read various types of media – on paper, mobile/tablet, e-reader (e.g., Kindle), laptop/desktop or no preference. Results showed an increase from 2021 in the preference for paper over digital communication in the following categories.

Books:                        50% prefer paper, up from 44%

Magazines:                47% prefer paper, up from 38%

Newspapers:             34% prefer paper, up from 29%

Catalogs:                   30% prefer paper, up from 22%

As might be expected, the survey showed that younger adults, those age 18 to 24 in particular, prefer to receive and read all types of media online. But even among these younger consumers, more than three in 10 prefer to read books and magazines in print.

The survey also revealed interesting trends over the last two years in consumer attitudes and habits related to how they consume news.

In 2021, 58% of consumers said they intended to read more news online in the future, but this number dropped to 53% in this year’s survey. Nearly six in 10 consumers (58%) said they would be concerned if printed newspapers were to disappear, up from 49% two years ago. More than half of consumers (51%) said they get a better understanding the story when reading news in print versus online, up from 44%. And more than four in 10 (43%) said they trust news stories in print rather than online, up from 34%.

“Print and digital media are often compared as an either/or proposition to suggest one is better than the other,” Rowzie says, “but our research clearly shows that consumers value both. Rather than adopting a one-size-fits all digital communications strategy, savvy publishers, retailers and other businesses will continue to offer consumers a choice. In doing so, they will not only satisfy consumers who prefer print on paper, but also will assure that those with no or limited access to digital information – older Americans, those with disabilities, low-income individuals and many in rural areas – are not disadvantaged.”

The 2023 Two Sides Trend Tracker Survey queried 1,000 respondents over age 18 across the United States. It is the second of Two Sides’ biennial trend tracker studies designed to explore and better understand consumer perceptions, behaviors and preferences related to the sustainability of paper products.

Download the press release here.

About Two Sides North America

Two Sides North America (www.twosidesna.org) is part of the non-profit Two Sides global network which includes more than 600 member companies across North America, South America, Latin America, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Our mission is to dispel common environmental misconceptions and to inspire and inform businesses and consumers with engaging, factual information about the inherent environmental sustainability and enduring value of print, paper and paper-based packaging.

Media Contact:

Kathi Rowzie, President, Two Sides North America

P:  937-999-7729

E:  info@twosidesna.org

As online shopping continues to grow, brands should consider consumers’ packaging preferences

The coronavirus pandemic’s demand-shock, brick-and-mortar store closures and stay-at-home orders have upended retail sales. As total spending declines, online spending is projected to surge by 18% in 2020, reflecting the impact of new buyers joining the online retail space as a result of the pandemic.  With ecommerce expected to reach 14.5% of total retail sales this year – both an all-time high and the biggest ever share increase in a single year* – the findings of Two Sides’ recent U.S. Packaging Preferences Survey provide brand owners with valuable insights into consumers’ current thinking on packaging materials, online shopping and related behavior.

  • More than half of consumers (57%) prefer products ordered online to be delivered in paper/cardboard packaging, and two-thirds (66%) believe paper/cardboard packaging is better for the environment than other types of packaging.
  • 70% of consumers prefer products ordered online to be delivered in appropriate fitting packaging, i.e., not too big for the size of the product inside.
  • Consumers across the United States are willing to change their behavior to shop more sustainably. Nearly 4 in 10 (38%) are willing to spend more on a product if it is packaged using sustainable materials, and more than a third (36%) said they would consider avoiding a retailer who is not taking steps to reduce their use of non-recyclable packaging.
  • When asked to rank their preferred packaging materials (paper and cardboard, glass, metal or plastic) based on 15 environmental, practical and visual/tactile attributes, paper and cardboard packaging ranked highest on 11 of 15 attributes, including being home compostable (69%) and easier to recycle (51%).
  • Glass packaging ranked highest among consumers on three practical and tactile/visual attributes, including being reusable (36%), having a preferred look and feel (32%) and providing better protection (29%).  Nearly half of respondents (47%) ranked metal packaging highest for being strong and robust. Plastic packaging was not ranked highest for any of the 15 attributes but was ranked second highest for seven attributes.
  • The survey showed that paper/cardboard is correctly considered by consumers to be the most recycled packaging material, but only 24% think the U.S. recycling rate for paper/cardboard packaging exceeds 60%. In fact, 73% of all paper-based packaging in the United States is recycled, and 88% of cardboard is recycled, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Consumer attitudes toward plastic are clear, with 57% of survey respondents indicating they are actively taking steps to reduce their use of plastic packaging, 36% saying they would avoid retailers if they knew they were not actively trying to reduce their use of non-recyclable plastic packaging, and 44% saying the use of non-recyclable packaging should be discouraged through taxation.

“Only time will tell the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s little doubt that it is already changing many aspects of modern life, including the way we shop for everything from groceries, beauty items and health-related products to electronics, sports equipment and pet supplies,” says Two Sides Vice President of Operations Kathi Rowzie.

“Shopping online will become the new normal for many consumers as companies enhance their supply chains, get more efficient at packaging and order fulfillment, and speed up delivery. It’s also clear that growing awareness of sustainable packaging choices is becoming a driving force in consumer purchasing decisions. As brand owners rethink their packaging strategies to align with current market realities and consumer preferences, paper-based packaging stands out as a natural choice.”

The Two Sides Packaging Preferences Survey 2020 was conducted by independent research firm Toluna.  Download the full report here.                                                        

*eMarketer, US Ecommerce, 2020

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