Label Codes Are a Powerful Sustainability Tool

QR and AR Codes Are Transforming Labeling and Customer Experiences

By Gary Paulin and Mark Lusky

Smart labels share more information, with less paper, ink and adhesives.

Label codes such as QR Codes and Augmented Reality (AR) codes have transformed how (and how much) products are tracked, traced, reported about, identified, and talked about. Label codes are doing everything from providing up-to-date intel on the product’s journey from manufacturer to consumer, to giving those consumers an entertaining, educational, and interactive way to become more engaged with the product.

Less obvious at first glance is the vital role codes play in the sustainability movement when it comes to informing, disclosing, educating, and entertaining consumers. Simply put, QR, AR, and other codes expand printed labels’ terrain digitally, and enable the sharing of more information without the need for more label stock, ink, and adhesives—a benefit to the environment.

More about QR and AR codes…and contributions to customer retention

As technological capabilities of both advanced codes continue to expand, so will opportunities to go green in a paperless way. In addition, these codes are proving valuable to customer retention. Customers are increasingly taking advantage of what these codes offer to their buying journey, in turn driving loyalty and longevity.

QR codes are 2D barcodes able to store URLs. Websites on the other end of the link can include updated certifications, detailed usage directions, informative or fun videos, and more. They can enable interaction such as product registration or newsletter sign-up, provide instructions, detail recipes, offer fun facts, carry required compliance information, and provide inventory data.

AR codes are QR codes on steroids, offering both 2D and 3D content, social media sharing options, and enhanced user experiences engaging customers at much deeper levels. Customers can see how products appear in the real world, and more often are buying products after experiencing AR with a smartphone camera or custom app that reads a label ID. Any product is eligible, from foods and beverages to health and beauty.

Back to sustainability

As the sustainability movement grows more expansive and pervasive, more product buying decisions will be influenced by consumer assessment of a company’s “Sustainability Quotient.” Influencers, in the forms of governments/regulators, advocacy groups, lobbyists, and industry representatives, will increasingly weigh in on the importance of preserving the planet and renewable energy choices.

So, the wise product manufacturer will balance the best and most important use of printed labels and placement of label codes opening up an entire digital world of information to a variety of audiences (including along the supply chain).

To do this in a way that fuels brand success, product manufacturers will commit themselves to a re-evaluation of their label and label code strategies, in much the same way as packaging materials, containers, and product components themselves will undergo a re-think.

For example, given the ability to use codes to extend information to the digital sphere, product manufacturers may want to re-evaluate use of more costly extended content labels—especially booklet style. An exception would be required additional product warnings or real-time use instructions—which also could be reiterated digitally. This repeated emphasis also can drive better customer engagement and loyalty.

Following are steps for product manufacturers to consider in future label and label code decision-making:

  1. Contact your label provider for ideas and insights. Trendsetting digital label printers collaborate with their clients, offering a variety of creative and compelling ways to achieve desired outcomes. In the case of wanting to become more sustainability-focused, these ideas can include ways to maximize brand impact while minimizing use of materials. There are many special effects to help accomplish this, and trends toward simpler, less busy labels can help the sustainability cause. Ability to advise and direct clients on how to best use codes as “off-site” additions to printed labels merits inclusion at a high level in the overall discussion.
  2. Get clear on your digital strategy and tactics at the same time. Offloading more in-depth information to digital platforms via scannable/clickable codes is a critical part of the equation. What is linked digitally merits considerable analysis as well. For example, a digital code connecting people to entertaining stories about the product is far different from “just the facts” information that helps inform. Consider such questions as: Do you want to connect customers to special offers with a strong call-to-action? Are you looking to provide feedback about product questions consumers have about a particular product, its sustainability quotient, and /or other issues? Do you want to dazzle ‘em with pizzazz, via a highly-creative and polished presentation? Are you looking to have your digital platforms handle the lion’s share of disclosures and core product information?
  3. Look at where you want your sustainability philosophy and practices to evolve. Some companies are embracing environmentally-friendly and renewable energy initiatives. Regardless of the breadth and depth of what your company decides, going-forward decisions merit being based on three principles: sincerity, transparency, continuous improvement. This is a path for product manufacturers that believe in the value of, and need for, sustainability—and are willing to make an ongoing commitment. (But, it should apply to anyone, no matter their sustainability commitment.) Intermittent, insincere stabs at “looking good”—often referred to as “greenwashing” in the environmental arena—are increasingly getting called out as phony tactics. It’s better to stay true to core values and beliefs, no matter what they are.

At the end of the day, label coding—however it fits into a well-thought-out strategy—likely will play an ever-more-important role in the development and deployment of labels, and help drive the sustainability movement.

About the Authors

Gary Paulin is Vice President, Sales and Client Services at Lightning Labels, a Denver-based custom label printer that uses state-of-the-art printing technology to provide affordable, full-color custom labels and custom stickers of all shapes and sizes. Mark Lusky is president of Lusky Enterprises, Inc., a marketing communications and content development company. For more information, contact: or visit

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