We can’t tell you enough that QR codes can be seriously beneficial for brands.

From running marketing campaigns to driving customer engagement on social media, these codes pack a big punch for such a little square. And they really stepped up during the pandemic, turning everyday interactions into safe touchless experiences.

But perhaps one of QR’s biggest benefits is the low impact they have on the environment. One square has the ability to replace multi-page printed documents while avoiding paper waste associated with out of date marketing materials.

Here, we’ll look at several ways QR codes can be incorporated into your brand strategy to meet your sustainability goals. Many of these ideas can also save money and inspire your customers to take eco-friendly actions of their own.

💡 Bonus: read to the end to find out how to easily incorporate QR codes into your branded packaging and printed assets to bring these ideas to life.

7 ways to use QR codes to further your brand’s sustainability mission

A Custom Hang Tag is a great location to place a QR code. Source: Vintage Society / Instagram

Many companies from vegan shoe brands to retail giants like Starbucks are using QR codes to help them meet ambitious sustainability goals. Get inspired by examples from real brands already taking advantage of this technology.

1. Reduce paper and printing waste with digital user manuals


Purchasing a highly technical product or something requiring assembly usually means you’re throwing mountains of paper into the recycling bin as soon as you’re set up. Many of these package inserts can be replaced by a single card with a QR square. And, if the information changes, it can be easily updated online without extra printing.

Best-in-class examples:

Eva, an Australian B Corp-certified furniture company, eliminates excess paper in its shipments by linking to assembly instructions right on the box and on the small packaging insert.

noissue's Custom Insert Cards are QR code compatible. Source: Eva

Plumbing parts company Viega has similarly replaced instruction manuals with QR codes, boasting that the move will reduce paper waste by 32 tons a year.

Bushnell Golf uses the same concept to simplify product registration—and eliminates extra package inserts—using QR codes printed directly on its products and packaging.

Brochures or Custom Flyers are a good place to place a QR code to share further information

2. Direct customers to your sustainability statement


Sometimes, a brand’s story is what sets it apart in a crowded market. But at a point of sale or on a product’s packaging, brands have limited space to tell that story. For eco-conscious shoppers, a brand’s sustainability mission or the origin of the product can be important to purchasing decisions—and a QR code can help them access it.

Best-in-class examples:

Tico Coffee, in a bid to get the brand’s story to its customers, updated its packaging to include a QR code. When scanned, customers are taken to a page where they can read about the origins of the beans and the company’s mission.

Stand Up Pouches have ample space on the outside of the package for a QR code. Source: Tico Coffee / Behance

Spanish footwear brand Flamingos Life may look like other classic sneaker designs, but it’s how the shoes are made that makes them stand out from other brands. Produced from materials like corn and bamboo, these sneakers have appeal for vegan and environmentally conscious consumers. To educate its customers, Flamingos Life prints QR codes on its hang tags to direct customers to the brand’s sustainability report.

Custom Hang Tags can be used to share information about how your products were sourced and created. Source: Flamingos Life
Source: Flamingos Life

3. Replace paper-dependent processes with digital alternatives

Online returns processes have come a long way since the advent of ecommerce. And many brands have simplified it by pre-printing return labels and packing slips. This convenience, however, has led to paper waste when these documents go unused. Now, brands are going paperless, directing customers to an online returns portal via a QR code printed on packaging.

Best-in-class examples:

Fashion behemoth ASOS made this move in 2020, asserting the decision “could save 8,450 trees or 320,000kg of paper.” Through its online portal, customers can initiate a return that generates a QR code in lieu of a paper label.

ASOS is swapping paper labels for QR codes. Source: ASOS

4. Make it easier for your customer to go green, too

Chances are, if you’re a brand that cares about sustainability, your customers likely do too. That’s why it’s a smart move to engage them in your bid to be planet-friendly. It will reinforce your commitment to your sustainability mission and increase trust.

Best-in-class example:

Thrift+ makes it simple for customers to not only shop for gently used items, but to also close the loop by returning their own castoffs. Return bags have QR codes that customers can scan to initiate the process.

Share return instructions by placing a QR code on the outside of a Custom Mailer. Source: Celtic & Co

5. Consolidate printing needs to reduce paper consumption

QR codes make it possible to shrink the size of packaging and hang tags because they can take on the burden of extra product info. They also make it possible to consolidate different printing needs into single tags.

Best-in-class example:

Patagonia reduced the number of unique hang tags it prints from 20 down to 2. The unique product information is now accessible via scanning the code.  

Patagonia has simplified its packaging to feature a QR code as its one true source of information. Source: AARON WU

6. Eliminate marketing campaign waste

Time-limited marketing campaigns can create a ton of waste—paper assets become useless as soon as the contest or deal expires. Using a QR code, brands can reuse printed materials like cards or stickers and simply update a landing page, social post, or Tapkit microsite.

Best-in-class examples:

Fast food chain Wendy’s runs its Wendy's Rewards™ program without disposable stamp cards or membership cards. Using a QR codes via the brand’s mobile app, customers can scan and earn points at the cash register through a paperless transaction. And, Wendy’s can easily update the branding or terms of its program without printing new cards.

Source: Open Loyalty

Scratch card promos are popular marketing tools for department stores but paper scratch cards often get tossed as soon as they’re used. Macy’s leveraged QR codes to run its Black Friday promotion, letting customers scan in-store signage to reveal cash prizes.  

7. Develop a reuse program with the ease of QR

Food service businesses can contribute to a ton of waste, even as many switch to non-plastic versions of food packaging, straws, and cutlery. Many brands are trying to tackle this issue by developing programs that encourage customers to opt-in to reusable alternatives.

Best-in-class examples:

As part of the coffee giant’s goal of reducing waste sent to landfills by 50% by 2030, Starbucks launched a trial of its Borrow A Cup program in Seattle in 2020. Since then, the company expanded the program into more locations in the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. Using a QR code to track the program, customers can opt to return the cups to Starbucks’ contactless kiosks.

Source: Starbucks
Source: Starbucks

Fill it Forward’s mission is to encourage the world to go reusable by rewarding eco-friendly actions with charitable donations. Users can scan the company’s products (or QR-coded tags that can be attached to 3rd party bottles) every time they refill. Each scan makes a donation to Fill it Forward’s charitable partners, trackable in the organization’s app.  

Use packaging QR codes as a tool for good to contribute to a worthy cause. Source: Fill it Forward
Source: Fill it Forward

QR-friendly sustainable packaging solutions

noissue Custom Folded Hang Tags can contain a QR code on the inside. Source: Azar / Instagram

Ready to go green with the help of QR codes? Many of noissue’s custom packaging solutions are now QR-compatible — and much of this collection boasts sustainable features of their own:

How will you use QR codes in creative ways? Share your QR codes in the wild by tagging your social posts with #Tapkitqr!