Eco friendly or ‘sustainable’ packaging is good for the planet, helps to identify your businesses values with your consumers and is understandably a hot trend right now. With an increasing awareness about the environmental damages caused by traditional packaging styles, more and more consumers are now favouring packaging solutions that have negligible impacts on the ecosystem and are driving both designers and company owners to go green. Here I share some thoughts on getting started.

Adopt the lifestyle approach

If you’re serious about analysing your packaging, there are Life Cycle Assessment tools to analyse the level of environmental hazards that the different packaging options pose. These can be helpful in making more informed decisions about materials and box designs based on a standard set of environmental indicators. This helps to look at the bigger picture, beyond the specific material you are using, to the impact of the whole project. For example, when PUMA introduced its Red colored ‘Clever Little Bag’ for packaging its shoes, it not only strategically cut down on its paper consumption by 65%, but also reduced the consumption of diesel, energy and water for manufacturing by north of 60%.

Investigate the various package elements

There are several factors of packaging design that cumulatively contribute towards sustainability such as volume, weight and material of the package. By determining the impact of each of the influential factors, you can also innovate and develop new and improved ways of modifying your current packaging process. An interesting parameter to achieve sustainability is to design a package that can be used even after consuming the product. For instance, in 2010, KFC introduced its polypropylene ‘Sides container’ and marketed it as reusable and dishwasher and microwave safe.

At Mindful Design Collective we worked with luk beautifood on their lipstick packaging which is a wrap, reusable as a screen or glasses cleaner. This gave the product a distinct edge as nearly all other lipsticks are packaged in a box, protected the product in shipping, saving on other padding, and provided a sustainable element to their packaging relevant to their client base.

‘Making a difference isn’t just pie in the sky idealism that makes the heart feel good; it’s good business sense that the head can embrace as well’.

- Michael Bunting, The Mindful Leader

Make it a perfect fit

Regardless of how sustainable a substance you incorporate for packaging your products is, your packaging design will not entirely be eco friendly unless it has been developed using the minimum amount of materials. Consider keeping your box design a perfect fit for the item to be placed inside (with sufficient space for safety padding) and cut back on anything excess. GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare did away with its supplementary packaging and the additional insert for its Os-Cal calcium supplement and introduced its redesigned polyethylene bottle wrapped within a shrink sleeve label that carried all the relevant product information. The redesigned packaging saved about 208 tons of paper and cut down on the Co2 emissions by nearly 330,000 lb.

Advertise your sustainable design

While being personally aware of your contribution towards conserving the nature might be a reward in itself, it wouldn’t hurt to let your customers know that they too will be part of the green movement if they buy your products.  By mentioning that your package design is eco friendly and also using green symbols such as the recycling logo, you can not only make your customers a voluntary part of your quest to environment conservation, but also boost your sales multiple times over. You might even want to go one step further and look into B Corp certification, which looks at all elements of your corporate sustainability and ethics in production.

The Dow Jones Sustainability index performed an average of 36.1% better than the traditional Dow Jones Index over a period of five years*

Going green can be good for the bottom line

In a 2015 Harvard University study, researchers analysed a range of investments across industries to try to identify whether companies that focused on sustainability performed any better than those who didn’t. For the study, sustainability was defined as ‘a companies voluntary actions to manage its environmental and social impact and increase its positive contribution to society’. According to the study, the overwhelming evidence was that ‘firms with good ratings on material sustainability outperform those with poor ratings on these issues*’.

In 2016 Goldman Sachs reported that ‘more capital is now focused on sustainable business models and the market is rewarding leaders and new entrants in a way that could scarcely have been predicted even fifteen years ago’ **

According to ‘The Mindful Leader’ by Michael Bunting, the International Finance Corporation found that the Dow Jones Sustainability index performed an average of 36.1% better than the traditional Dow Jones Index over a period of five years.

As Bunting summarises: ‘making a difference isn’t just pie in the sky idealism that makes the heart feel good; it’s good business sense that the head can embrace as well’.

Don’t be afraid to start small

If you are just getting started, don’t be put off by all of the seemingly overwhelming options available. You don’t need to revolutionise the industry to make a difference, and every little bit helps. You can start by looking at the amount of printing you do, whether all of the components of your packaging are necessary and begin to ask questions about your stock (paper) selection, your printing processes, choice of printer.

Sustainable packaging design is a continuous process which essentially requires consistent efforts and innovation in a bid to enhancing your prospects and developing better technologies. If consumers, designers and business owners are all asking for (dare I say demanding) better solutions, better answers to the question ‘how does this impact the environment’ and ‘can we do any better’ this field will only get better and better with time.