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Issue 06/2017

  • Text
  • Bioplastics
  • Biobased
  • Materials
  • Products
  • Plastics
  • Packaging
  • Biodegradable
  • Sustainable
  • Compostable
  • Renewable
bioplasticsMAGAZINE_1706

Report Product

Report Product communication for bioplastics Uncharted territory and an adventure for the companies involved. Results of a study “And the companies that bring the products to market are in for an adventure...” [1]. After making the decision to use bioplastics, companies are often faced with the question if and how this new material can be implemented in product communication, and yet there are presently almost no established methods of doing this. The feeling of adventure in the quote above expresses the uncertainty experienced by many companies, and interviews conducted in the Product Communication research project – being a part of the Junior Research Group at IfBB (Institute of Bioplastics and Biocomposites, Hanover, Germany) – confirm this. The underlying conditions for marketing products containing bioplastics were analyzed with the goal of developing effective communication strategies. 24 interviews were conducted in 2016 with 35 communication executives. The focus was placed on questions concerning the existing knowledge, requirements and reservations with respect to the use of bioplastics. The survey addressed companies that either produce or sell bioplastic products, as well as representatives from politics, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the scientific community and relevant associations. The reasons for the interest in bioplastics are manifold and range from a desire for the use of sustainable materials to perceived pressure from business or the customer: “But we also see it as a marketing tool, we can’t do without it. That’s an issue. If we are asked about it, we have to have something to show.” [2]. The fear of resource scarcity is also a common reason for choosing bioplastics. Bioplastics offer real advantages that can be conveyed in product communications. On the one hand, the interviewees acknowledged the positive aspects for the environment such as the reduction of both CO 2 output and oil consumption: “Yes, petroleum-free, 100 % from renewable resources and odorless, these are the three main arguments” [3]. On the other hand, the higher costs, difficult cultivation conditions, technical limitations and public criticism of competition with food production were often mentioned as disadvantages: “In our view, it is quite true that those materials should be preferred, which do not compete with land use. Thus, material out of waste would be our first choice” [4]. Nevertheless, biodegradability is an advantage if it fits the product properties and the application; however, disadvantages are presented by the fact that the disposal options are unclear; and that many technical difficulties still exist. Those interviewees indicated that the features and appearance of the products need to be emphasized: “It really does make sense to find new materials with new qualities such as better barrier properties or, in the simplest case, an improved ability to be printed upon or molded. Add the aspect of their being biobased, and you have created a real business opportunity...” [5]. When businesses gather information on this subject, they primarily use internal sources such as their suppliers, trade associations, their own departments, and scientific publications, while the communication goals vary according to the target group. These goals can be anything from informing and clarifying up to the generation of pull effects. The biggest challenge for communication is that this topic generally requires much explanation, especially regarding the disposal options. Communication activities should start in-house and must include both informing and training. Furthermore, the topic of bioplastics often meets with false expectations and prejudices and is sometimes perceived to lack in relevance [6]. A fear of criticism and association with greenwashing was noticeable: “You’re more aware of defensive issues, because you definitely want to avoid being accused of greenwashing“ [7]. 46 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/17] Vol. 12

Report This inhibits communication, but it also creates the incentive for companies to communicate more clearly. The results of the interviews show that green marketing is not necessarily advantageous for various reasons. The topic of bioplastics is too complex; and the potential pitfalls and challenges to communication efforts are too great. When bioplastics are mentioned at all, product communication should instead inform and explain the issue by being transparent. It should also address prejudices. In effective product communication, focus should be placed on the product: its quality, its properties, and its design. The material itself should be secondary, and for this reason, the properties of bioplastics should be represented as pleasant side-effects, not as a main feature. Potentially, this could lead to an increase in the perceived value of the product, but in order for this to come into effect, customers (end users, business customers, public authorities) will need some sort of confidence-building evidence in the form of certification or product labeling. The study results also indicate that there are still many challenges that communication cannot solve alone: For example, there is still a lack of uniform standards both on a national and on an EU level; the purchase prices are still high; production processes must be changed; and disposal infrastructures (composting, recycling) have to be expanded. In the case of small and medium-sized Enterprises, it makes sense to think about alliances to generate more market power and to carry out concerted marketing campaigns. With good products to build upon, communication will be able to effectively support the establishment process. The research group FNG of the Institute of Bioplastics and Biocomposites (IfBB) at University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover plans to introduce bioplastics products to the German market in cooperation with the business sector. Ecological and economic assessments and clarification of technical feasibility will also be carried out. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (BMEL) under the sponsorship of the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR). More information about the Junior Research Group at IfBB can be found here: http://fng.ifbb-hannover.de All results of the research project will be available on the IfBB website starting middle of January 2018. www.ifbb-hannover.de References [1] „Und das Abenteuer bestreiten halt die Firmen, die die Produkte auf den Markt bringen…” (interview partner 14, Applying company). [2] „Aber wir sehen das halt auch als Marketinginstrument, wir können nicht darauf verzichten, das ist ein Thema. Wenn wir darauf angesprochen werden, müssen wir so was haben“ (interview partner 14, applying company). [3]„Ja, erdölfrei, 100 % aus nachwachsenden Rohstoffen und geruchsneutral, das sind so die drei Hauptargumente“ (interview partner 18, applying company) [4] „Aus unserer Sicht ist es natürlich schon so, dass natürlich Ausgangsmaterialien, die jetzt vielleicht nicht so sehr auch in Konkurrenz zum Land-Use stehen, bevorzugt werden sollten. Also eben Material aus Abfällen wären für uns ... erste Wahl“ (interview partner 22, trade company). [5]„Sinn macht es wirklich, neue Materialien zu finden, die irgendwelche neuen Eigenschaften haben, zum Beispiel einfach bessere Barriereeigenschaften oder im einfachsten Fall lassen sie sich besser bedrucken oder verformen. Wenn dann noch die Biobasiertheit dazukommt, dann hat man einen wirklichen Mehrwert geschaffen für die Industrie...“ (interview partner 25, association). [6] Pls. see also results of the focus groups: a survey with a total of 48 consumers in the context of the FNG research project (2016): here: Webinar 3 (German language only, registration via e-mail is required) https://www.ifbb-hannover.de/de/webinare.html [7] „Man geht da mit dem Thema eher bewusst defensiv um, weil man halt definitiv vermeiden möchte, in diese Ecke geschmissen zu werden, dass man halt Greenwashing betrieben hat“ (interview partner 14, applying company). By: Miriam Jaspersen FNG II-Projekt Hochschule Hannover, Germany Wiebke Möhring FNG II-Projekt Technical University Dortmund, Germany bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/17] Vol. 12 47

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