Beyond Green Labels and Greenwashing

Mark Hewitt, CEO | Strategy & Innovation Lead

Are you stuck in the Action-Intention gap?

In a world with so much talk around sustainability, how is it possible that the environmental and social issues being addressed seem to be worsening, not improving? What is the action-intention gap and what can you do to close it?

Living in a world that’s all talk and no action?

There’s undoubtedly growing conversation around sustainability issues from corporates, brands, and the media. We all recognise that we need to act to reduce our carbon footprint. Many board rooms are already buzzing with conversation about how to achieve that. There’s even recognition around the benefits that sustainability delivers to a brand’s reputation. However, according to by Global Management Consultants Mckinsey, products making ESG-related claims are not seeing a substantial growth in sales over and above products not making ESG related claims. So why, therefore, are we not seeing intention  converting to action? 

The Action-Intention gap

It seems that corporates and brands are busy focusing on the long-term - discussing issues within their operations at a supply chain scale. The media follows suit, leading on high-level agendas, sustainability targets and corporate investments. All this is important for two reasons: It (hopefully) leads to long-term change, and it increases awareness. 

Meanwhile, these environmental issues are high on the agenda for Joe Public. But the difference is, here, sustainability conversations focus on the day-to-day and the immediate future such as what to wear, how to recycle and sustainable ways to eat. 

While the planet only has one agenda: change, it seems that a sustainability disconnect is emerging between businesses concerned with the long-term strategy change, and the consumers and end-users wanting to act instantly. 

We call this the Action-Intention Gap

Short-term gap. Long-term problem.

The risk of the Action-Intention Gap is long-term apathy among end users and consumers. That’s because awareness without practical instruction leads to helplessness and frustration. Endured over a prolonged period, this creates an apathy - an ‘I can’t do anything to make a difference, so why make the effort’ attitude. 

Empowering end-users

One of the most important things organisations can do right now is to take measures to avoid apathy creeping in. Organisations must demonstrate that we’re all working together to protect our planet and that while they are looking out for a long-term sustainability strategy, there are things end-users and consumers can be and should be doing to get real and make a difference right now. 

Closing the gap with your on-shelf pack

Connected Packaging can play a pivotal role in helping brands get real. With Connected Packaging, brand owners can deliver guidance, assistance and tangible opportunities that are simple and easy for people to action in the most relevant moments within their busy day-to-day lives. 

Let’s first understand how the various components that make up Connected Packaging can help brands get real with Sustainability.

From a Brand perspective … 

Increasingly, people want to make more sustainable choices but simply don’t know which products are more sustainable or why. This can result in consumers having a lack of awareness and a perception that brands lack transparency. Connected Packs can provide information quickly and easily at the critical moment. And, unlike printing, this digital information can be updated simply, regularly, and cost-effectively. With the use of APIs and even AI, this information can even be per individual item- or component-specific and provide real-time context. Connected Packaging really does give a wide range of opportunities and options for the evidencing of claims made.

For example, serialised QR codes with reward mechanics like Green Tokens can help consumers track product ingredients. On scanning the QR code, the consumer can select the ingredients they wish to track. Using SAP Green Token Platform, the consumer can then see where the ingredient originated from. For example, if the consumer wished to understand more about the potatoes in each product, they could scan the QR code to see when the potatoes left the farm, when they arrived at the factory and even when they arrived in store, if that’s the information that the brand owner provided. 

From a 2-D pack design perspective… 

We all lead busy lives and there are few people these days that can afford a leisurely approach to their weekly food shop. Many shoppers rush from aisle to aisle, ticking off lists as they go. If solutions are not clear, practical, and easy to understand, they will be missed. 

Meanwhile, buyers feel frustrated that any change they can affect as an individual is negligible. Sometimes, instructions are there but just aren’t clear enough. Other times, processes and opportunities are in place, but not communicated effectively. 

A key element of Connected Packaging is ensuring QR Codes are designed in ways that capture people’s attention. The Call-to-Action can then further support sustainability messaging if it helps solve a pain point and is communicated in a succinct and tonally relevant style, reflecting the consumer’s worldview.

From a Digital Experience perspective… 

Despite an emerging desire to be more sustainable in their shopping and consumption habits, buyers don’t want to compromise on price, quality, and convenience. Switching to more sustainable products must be made easy.

Connected Packaging can help by providing clever always-on, smart wallet notifications to communicate product information and rewards based on the purchase of products with good sustainability scores. It can also help by using technologies (like Augmented Reality) to tell vivid, personalised stories, instead of complex, anonymous statistical jargon. These stories could be case studies, consumer stories, brand stories, useful information, or inspiration on product use. The real beauty of digital content supporting products is that it can be used to drive data or be amended according to results or strategic direction. 

From a Data perspective… 

With Connected Packaging, it becomes possible to track real-time behaviours and engagement, helping us optimise all our activities to drive action and sustainable behaviours.

At CEC, we have a Sustainability AI tool that specifically helps us optimise behaviours. It tracks and scores all Connected Pack Sustainability Programmes and identifies the best-performing elements of each. This enables us to see the types of programmes that drive more action-orientated sustainable behaviours across markets and categories and, from this, provides specific recommendations supporting brand owners in securing the biggest benefits possible in their upcoming activities.  


In summary, Connected Packaging can enable transparency, deliver rewards, and provide a platform at the point of use for storytelling and enhancing brand engagement. It can give brand owners access to real-time data to drive action and optimise brand performance. And it offers cost-effective communication directly with the end-user that can easily be adapted and altered in real time. 

So, in terms of standing out from the crowd, communicating with your users, and understanding your buyers and consumers in more depth, Connected Packaging is the logical next step for brands that want to remain contemporary, drive a following, and be close to their consumers. Today, in a world where competition is tougher and more plentiful, Getting Real with your packaging has never been a more important action to take!

To learn more about how Connected Packaging could transform your business and discover how CEC could help you quantify the difference it could make to your business, contact

Written by Mark Hewitt, CEO | Strategy & Innovation lead

Mark has spent his career helping businesses grow and lead in digital transformation. For the last 10 years he has successfully led brand, digital, technology and packaging businesses and worked with leading CPG brands, helping them operationalise Connected Packaging Programmes around the world. In 2022 he co-created the multi-award winning Accessible QR code with Zappar.

CEC Overview

For more than 4 years, CEC has been helping clients quantify the true potential of their Connected Packaging. From revealing the true business case for Connected Packs to establishing the infrastructure and helping clients scale, CEC’s talent, tech and data insights are helping businesses better understand consumer behaviour when they have the product in their hands. 

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