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How AR Improves & Promotes Sustainability Efforts

June 10, 2021

Consumerism has evolved. It is no longer solely about the needs of an individual. It is no longer just about providing an end product.  It’s now also about the needs of the community and the planet. It’s now also about the process that brings value to more than the end customer. It’s about meeting social and environmental needs, as well as the consumer’s.

Companies have thus been turning to sustainable practices and digital marketing solutions to meet the new standard of consumerism. From ethical sourcing and fair employment to minimizing waste and maximizing recycling, brands across industries are making substantial improvements to the betterment of all. 

Augmented Reality is playing a growing role in this modern evolution. Companies are using AR to connect, educate, and engage with their audience, and not just to sell more products (although it’s extremely effective for that, too). 

Brands are using Augmented Reality to:

  • Meet consumer demand for sustainable practices
  • Practice responsible consumption and production
  • Reduce waste in early product design and redesign stages
  • Promote and teach recycling practices
  • Support Brand Transparency
  • Show the Power of the Collective

Consumer Demand for Sustainable Practices

There is an increasing demand for brands to implement and uphold sustainable practices in the making, distributing, and selling of their products. Consumers are letting their voices be heard through the products they buy. They are saying no to less eco-friendly brands and saying yes to eco-conscious, sustainable-minded brands—even if it means paying more money to say yes.

The Global Consumer Confidence Survey conducted in collaboration with Nielsen Q2 reported in 2017 that 81% of global respondents feel strongly that companies should help improve the environment. It is safe to assume that percentage has only increased in the years since. 

The demand isn’t dependent on country, gender, or age, with a strong call for action across all demographics. While it is unsurprisingly “extremely important” to 80-85% of Gen Z and Millennials that companies implement enviro-friendly programs, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation aren’t far behind at 65-72%. In essence, at least two-thirds of the world’s consumers believe companies have a big responsibility to help improve the environment.

As we’ll soon discuss, Augmented Reality helps companies not only meet that demand but also amplify the voices calling for change.

Practice Responsible Consumption and Production

To get the world on the same page, the United Nations released 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The #12 goal is to practice responsible consumption and production. Product packaging is a primary concern that falls under this category. 

According to the same global survey, Packaging Waste/Food Waste is one of the top concerns in every continent, just after concern for air and water pollution in many regions. Consumers want brands to reimagine their product packaging to decrease waste and increase recyclability. In response, brands are turning to “Connected Packaging” to bring more value to their customers in a more sustainable way.

The Value of Connected Packaging

Augmented Reality offers several different solutions that support sustainability. One such solution is Live AR events that prevent unnecessary transportation, excessive printed materials, and other waste associated with in-person live events. However, the AR solution that arguably has the biggest positive impact on sustainability is connected packaging (which we will mainly focus on for the purpose of this article). 

Connected packaging uses package design to connect consumers to relevant digital content and experiences. Consumers can scan a QR code, trigger image, or the product itself to activate the digital experience. In its simplest form, connected packaging links to a website, social media account, or other online destination. With Augmented Reality, the digital information is interactive and engaging with unlimited possibilities. 

The Good Crisp Company provides an excellent example of using AR product packaging to connect and engage with their customers.

The forward-thinking chip company commissioned Aircards to turn their chip canisters into a digital holiday greeting. The campaign brought much-needed cheer to their customers amid Covid shutdowns that impeded so many holiday traditions. Their positive brand message resonated with their customers, boosting their brand loyalty as well as their sales.

From a sales point of view, it’s easy to see the value of AR connected packaging. But, again, the value doesn’t end with boosting sales. Actually, the value begins with sustainability…

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Augmented Reality product packaging responds to the Three R call-to-action  to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” How, you ask? 

Reduces Waste in Early Design Stages

Augmented Reality cannot only be used on product packaging but also to plan product and product packaging designs. Brands can use AR to visualize products in high-quality, high-fidelity 3D, removing the need to physically print or produce packaging examples in the early design stages. 

“AR/VR technologies can be used by geographically dispersed teams to lessen the need for travel and reduce their carbon footprint,” Nihanth Cherukuru, Project Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), explains. “In the design and manufacturing sector, the advent of real-time photorealistic rendering capabilities in conjunction with AR/VR technologies can help reduce the number of physical prototypes required in the visual design process, thereby reducing material waste.”

As an example, a team (even one scattered across countries) can view a 3D example of a new packaging design that they can move and rotate to view from all angles. They can take it even further by viewing the product sample on a virtual store shelf through an Augmented Reality portal

Reuse Design for New AR Experience

The AR QR code, trigger image, or product design can be reused to deliver a new AR experience. There is no need to redesign, reprint mockups, or waste existing packaging inventory. 

Brands can simply update or completely change the digital information the Augmented Reality experience delivers. When scanned, customers are directed to the new experience. It’s a virtually waste-free way to breathe new life into connected packaging… and it has endless lives.

Recycle Education

Brands have come up with creative solutions to improve the recyclability of their products. However, those improvements sometimes come with confusion. Recycling methods vary from country to country, and even from city to city. Sometimes, customers simply don’t know how to recycle the product packaging. 

For instance, some brands have cut down on plastic use by supplementing thinner plastic containers with cardboard support. Both the plastic and cardboard are recyclable, but customers need to know how to recycle them separately. 

There’s only so much room on product packaging to educate the consumer on your product: its benefits, ingredients, directions for use, warnings, recycling information, and more. Augmented Reality transforms any product packaging into Dr. Who’s Tardis that’s “bigger on the inside,” where the “inside” is a web-based storehouse of valuable information. AR can show them how to recycle or give them ideas on how to reuse the packaging.

Rewards Recycling 

Augmented Reality can even add a fourth R to the Three R slogan: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reward! In addition to educating the customer on recycling, companies can reward customers for recycling with an Augmented Reality Treat. 

Rewards could include a fun face filter like those enjoyed on Snapchat, an AR mini-game, a personal video from the CEO thanking the customer for their efforts, and many other possibilities. 

Social Sustainability

Environmental sustainability and eco-mindedness have been strongly advocated for over the past few decades, but another form of sustainability is gaining recognition alongside it: Social Sustainability. 

Social sustainability specifies and manages business impacts, both positive and negative, on people and communities. It addresses how companies affect employees, workers in the value chain, local communities, and customers. A company’s actions may affect (again, positively or negatively) poverty, inequality, labor practices, risk management, education, health, and basic human rights. 

Supports Brand Transparency

We’ve already discussed the voice of the consumer, but social sustainability gives a voice to the worker.  It encourages accountability for how brands source materials and ingredients and how they manufacture and produce their products. This transparency is especially important for work done in other countries, particularly those with less-developed labor and quality standards.

Social Sustainability encourages brands to take responsibility for the process and to even tell the stories of those working hard to create the product their customers enjoy. And Augmented Reality offers storytelling at its finest.

Chiquita, the producer best known for its bananas, is an excellent example of a socially sustainable company. In addition to providing jobs, they work hard to support their farming communities through improving school infrastructures and advancing farm management.

Chiquita was also one of the first companies to use AR to show their customers what happens “behind the blue sticker” to get their product from farm to table. Using Augmented Reality, they transported consumers to the farms and introduced them to the people behind the product. It recognized their hard work and told their story to people across the world. 

Augmented Reality can break down the barrier between consumer and company, and even consumer and worker. It can show how companies aren’t simply focused on profit margins but on quality of life for all those touched by the creation and sale of their product. It can show how they’re making a difference in the communities their products help support. It can show that a product isn’t just a product. 

Shows the Power of the Collective

Lastly, Augmented Reality can show the Power of the Collective. It can show how extraordinary things can happen when human beings work together. 

Instead of simply asking people to recycle, brands can show them with AR what happens when they recycle (or if they don’t!). 

Instead of telling people to support their brand, they can use AR to show them how supporting their brand helps an entire community in an under-developed country. 

Instead of asking people to get involved in sustainable efforts, they can use AR to show them how their involvement makes a difference in this world.

In Conclusion

Augmented Reality is a powerfully engaging medium that can support and promote sustainable practices. It can elevate product packaging to connected packaging that can be reinvigorated without every redesigning or reprinting. It can educate consumers, improve brand transparency and loyalty, and spread the messages most important to a company’s sustainable endeavours. 

Put simply, it can be more persuasive and informative than any other standard approach. 

To learn more about Augmented Reality and how it can elevate your brand, contact Aircards today. 

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Connected Packaging