While the packaging industry is searching for answers to the question of how to encourage individual consumers to buy food in environmentally friendly packaging, Human Resource Management (HRM) scholars might have found an answer. Recent studies suggest that new practices such as “green training” may influence employees’ eco-friendly purchasing behaviors outside of work. Dr. Igor Popovic, Vice President, Global Sales and Commercial Excellence at Huhtamaki, tells us more.
The purchase of food in environmentally friendly packaging is increasing. However, given the significant price difference between foods in non-recyclable packaging and foods in environmentally friendly packaging, progress is slow. If we are to speed up the transition from the use of non-recyclable packaging to the use of environmentally friendly packaging, more attention needs to be paid not only to the availability of relevant packaging but also to consumers’ purchasing behaviors.
Yet, changing individual purchasing behaviors remains a serious challenge. Specifically, in the food industry, in which individuals have the choice to buy food for relatively low prices, offering more expensive food alternatives packaged in eco-friendly packaging does not always lead to the desired sales outcomes. How can we change consumers’ purchasing behaviors? How can we encourage them to buy food in eco-friendly packaging? These questions are among the key concerns of packaging manufacturers as well as food producers.
Based on my data analysis of more than 7,000 consumers from eleven countries, I believe that the packaging industry needs to give more attention to two aspects that can explain consumers’ purchases of food in environmentally friendly packaging:
- development of eco-literacy among consumers
- support of consumers’ eco-friendly lifestyle
Eco-literacy refers to consumers’ understanding of the principles of sustainability and the application of those principles as part of their purchasing behaviors. In turn, consumers’ eco-friendly lifestyle refers to practices representing an individual’s pro-environmental self-concept or identity.
During my Ph.D. research, I found that consumers who scored high on eco-literacy and an eco-friendly lifestyle were more likely to have a positive attitude towards buying food in environmentally friendly packaging. They were also more likely to pay more for basic foods like milk in eco-friendly packaging.
While developing eco-literacy and an eco-friendly lifestyle is important, how to help individual consumers develop these skills and behavioral competencies has been unknown. However, a recent study by Usman et al. (2022) sheds light on this topic. The authors found that such Human Resource Management (HRM) practices like “green training” can positively influence employees’ eco-friendly behaviors not only at work but also outside of work.
Specifically, they found that after the green training, aimed at fostering the knowledge, skills, and values required for employees to develop and support the organization’s performance with environmental issues, employees engaged in (a) reusing things, (b) reducing consumption of resources, such as water use, and (c) purchasing and consuming eco-friendly products, such as, for example, buying organic food, not only at work but also outside of their work.
Other green HRM practices can include recruiting and hiring new employees with green values, awareness and knowledge; green performance appraisals with clear requirements for assessing green work behaviors and performance; and rewards to provide incentives based on the successful implementation of organizational green objectives.
The important behavioral change that resulted from the green training occurred for several reasons. First, green training provided employees with crucial contextual resources that otherwise could be less accessible to them, such as knowledge about nature, skills, and motivation.
Next, the training inspired employees to learn about and address environmental issues and, consequently, reuse the knowledge gained in this training and invest it in future green initiatives. Finally, through a higher awareness of environmental protection, employees experienced a connection to nature, which refers to developing a higher sensitivity to environmental sustainability and awareness of the dangers associated with the depletion of natural resources.
Changing individual purchasing behaviors is not an easy task. Nonetheless, a growing body of research is emerging that sheds light on potential approaches to influencing consumer behavior change. Giving attention to how employers and specifically their HRM departments can shape employees’ eco-friendly purchasing behaviors through training might offer new opportunities for the packaging industry.