By Lilli Keinaenen
We all want to be do-gooders and make good choices. But it’s not always so easy being green when you don’t know where to start. Here are some simple ideas to help you make sustainable cannabis marketing and branding choices for your business.
Why sustainable cannabis marketing matters – consumer demand
Companies having social and environmental values is is something customers care about. In a study, nine consumers out of ten said they expect companies to do more than focus on profit – they expect companies to operate responsibly and address social and environmental issues. A whopping 84 percent of consumers say they seek out responsible products whenever possible, and 73% of millennials surveyed said they pay more for for brands that align with their values.
Many cannabis companies have internal goals around sustainability, and may even spout some of those values on the website. If talking the talk, you should also be willing to walk the walk.
Toss away the idea that sustainability is a luxury. It’s something your company needs to thrive – and you can’t just greenwash your way out of it neither, customers are savvy and can smell the BS.
TIP 1: swag
Whenever buying anything, think about the entire lifecycle of the product.
How was it made? Where was it made? Was it shipped from overseas or made locally? Is the thing made out of renewable plant-based materials like paper (or hemp!), or extracted petroleum-based materials like plastics? If your product is sun-grown on a family farm biodynamically, and your website talks about your love for the land and mother earth, but your tradeshow giveaway is a throwaway plastic item – is that being true to your brand?
Tradeshow swag – buy this, not that
Buy this: hemp paper flower seed cards with a fun story about your company
Instead of this: plastic fidget spinner that doesn’t relate to what you do
TIP 2: Sustainable Cannabis Marketing Packaging
What happens to your product packaging after opening?
When packaging cannabis, in addition to thinking about how it looks, if it complies with the regulations, and how much the packaging costs, you’ll want to look beyond the initial bottom line.
What happens to the outer packaging after it’s opened, and the inner packaging after the product is consumed? How will the customer feel throwing the empties away? Does it go to the trash? Does it recycle? Compost? Is there a buyback program where customers bring back the package for a discount on the next purchase?
Compliance is hard enough. And unfortunately lot of child resistant cannabis packaging is either fully plastic, or made from mixed materials including plastic. Did you know plastic doesn’t actually RE-cycle, as in much as it’s DOWN-cycled?
If it even is – only 9% of plastics in the USA were actually recycled last year. 80% of all plastics ever made in the history of mankind is now in the landfill. None of it has disintegrated, so it’s all still here, all 8.3 billion metric tons that has been produced in the six decades we’ve been living in the plastic era.
So okay, plastic is bad and we’re all doomed. And there’s more bad news? A lot of cannabis packaging is made out of mixed materials. When two otherwise recyclable materials are glued together, it won’t recycle as neither.
So what should you choose for sustainable cannabis marketing? Glass can be recycled over and over again. Aluminum recycles nicely as well. Hemp-based products are the gold standard, and there’s some interesting development around child resistant paper and pulp packaging. Composts or recycles, and can be made out of recycled or renewable materials.
Rigid packaging – buy this, not that
Buy this: glass, aluminum, paper, cardboard, bagasse, hemp plastic
Instead of this: plastic, polystyrene, acrylic, vinyl, foam, or combination materials
Tip 3: Exit Bags for Sustainable Cannabis Marketing
Less is more – less packaging, less impact
Less is truly more. A single gram of cannabis can be packaged in over 30 grams of packaging. So be mindful on how many layers you truly need. Does the single vape cart need a pop top tube encased in a clamshell or a plastic slider box with a foam insert? Is mylar the right choice or the easy choice? Also, more material costs more – the larger your package, the harder it is for a dispensary or distributor to store it as well.
Flexible packaging – meaning pouches and bags – are sometimes unavoidable. They are a better choice than rigid hard plastics in terms of material savings – we see this trend in consumer products where things like dish soap and ketchup and cereal are now sold in pouches instead of boxes or jars. If you gotta use plastic, at least use much less of it. And even better – there are companies making compostable, plant-based “mylar” pouches and bags!
Flexible cannabis packaging – buy this, not that
Buy this: Compostable, plant-based exit bags and pouches
Instead of this: traditional mylar or vinyl that goes to landfill and stays there for decades.
Tip 4: Collateral for Sustainable Cannabis Marketing
Smart thinking = savings for you and the planet
If one thing’s certain, it’s that things keep changing constantly in the cannabis industry. So whatever you’re buying – a tradeshow booth, flyers, brochures, or business cards – don’t buy more than you’d need for the next six months. Even though the price per item might be cheaper when buying in bulk, the worst thing ever is to toss boxes and boxes of brochures or packaging when they become outdated or noncompliant. When doing any sort of design projects, think of ways of making the item as timeless as possible. For packaging, that may mean modular thinking – one box, multiple labels.
For brochures or flyers, leaving out the dosage and testing information, and lists of vendors selling your product will make the information last from one batch to the next. For your tradeshow booth, we can make it modular, timeless, and reusable – especially if it needs to be shipped, don’t buy the cheapest thing that you’ll end up tossing after one or two shows.
Collateral – buy this, not that
Buy this: smaller quantities, quality materials for reusable items, evergreen content
Instead of this: one-time use disposable items that will get outdated
It can be easy being green
To recap: if you adopt a sustainability mindset, you’ll not only be saving the planet (which is nice of you, thank you) all the while staying true to the ideology your company wants to have. You become part of the solution, not part of the problem. And your customers will reward your efforts. Remember, consumers want companies to make an effort, and are willing to pay a premium and go out of their way to support those companies that do. Customers vote with their wallets. Make sure your brand is a brand they can believe in.
If you’re at all curious about how to have sustainable packaging that will help you create raving fans and sell even more products, then click here for your free “Brand Boost Call,” so you can get clear on how to avoid the big mistakes and understand ways to get noticed and create a thriving business, I’d love to talk!
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About the Author
Lilli Keinaenen has been designing beautiful things for over 15 years. In 2016, she went all-in with the burgeoning legal cannabis industry, working with advocacy, dispensaries and distro clients, as well as craft cannabis product brands — from edibles and beverages, to topicals and smokables. She’s deeply passionate about sustainable and compliant cannabis packaging. Lilli is the founder of Changemaker Creative, a Northern California creative agency, and recently joined the cannabis beauty brand Green Bee Botanicals as Chief Creative Officer.
Life before cannabis was with sustainable consumer products, environmental and social justice nonprofits, ad agency work in both Europe and the Bay Area.
Lilli is a classically trained designer with a Bachelor of Arts from her native country of Finland. She is also a self-professed reader of books, eater of tacos, font nerd and perfectionist.
Lilli is joining the Cannabis Sustainability Symposium on October 4, 2019 in Denver, Colorado as a speaker on a panel covering the topic of marketing and sustainability.
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