Sustainable Packaging Design Should not be Boring.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020
When we search for sustainable packaging design, we are invariably presented with an unbalance: Packaging that is made of paper or cardboard or constructed around recycled paper packaging molds or packaging that is overly sophisticated and impossible to bring to market due to its high costs.

We've done some research with packaging experts, leading organizations on the subject and searching for sustainable packaging projects examples designed by renown agencies from around the world to find out how sustainable packaging design efforts can actually be creative, functional and become a reality. 

First let’s define what sustainable packaging is

According to the Sustainable Packaging Coalition sustainable packaging is:

  • Beneficial, safe and healthy for individuals and communities throughout its lifecycle.
  • Able to meet market criteria for performance and cost.
  • Sourced, manufactured, transported and recycled using renewable energy.
  • Able to maximize the use of renewable or recycled source materials.
  • Made from materials healthy in all probable end-of-life scenarios.
  • Physically designed to optimize materials and energy.
  • Effectively recovered and utilized in biological and/or industrial cradle-to-cradle cycles.

It is hard to accomplish a design solution that complies with all elements on that list. Some of the things that may become roadblocks in our process of designing sustainable packaging can be:

  • Unavailability or high costs of materials and suppliers of those materials.
  • General cost limitation for the product on the market.
  • Community culture not oriented towards sustainability.

With all these requirements and challenges, we built a list of considerations based on what many of the packaging experts say that sustainable packaging design should attempt to accomplish:

1. Sustainable packaging should be seen as a competitive advantage to the customer.


First of all, when considering packaging design in general, a designer should take into account how the design contributes to the brand values and how it contributes to being consistent with them.

There are a lot of examples of how to accomplish this, but the idea behind consists in using the packaging design and its sustainable characteristics as a way to increase the product's value in the customer's eyes.

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From: Store by Brandi Steele.

Many customers could choose that product over the competitors' just because this product does less harm to the earth.

Also, our take on this is that sustainable packaging should attempt to make the customer work as less as possible for sustainability efforts to sustain a real impact on the Earth.

Lush co-founder and Managing Director Mark Constantine mentioned in 2019:

"In Lush, we work in an industry where the packaging costs the customer more than the product. Now, the customer needs to worry about how to recycle something they didn’t want to buy in the first place. This seems like a raw deal to us. If we can cut out all the plastic packaging, we can give our customers better value for money.”

So they were, at the time, searching for ways for the customer to get more value for their money.

Mark reminds me of how Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo's ex CEO, pushed very hard on her “Performance with Purpose” campaign being convinced that the organization under her leadership should look for ways to integrate financial success with social responsibility. 

“How do we make sure that, as a company, we replenish the planet and leave the world a better place than it was when we began playing around with it?”

According to an interview published by Boston Consulting Group in 2010, Indra explained how Purpose part of her campaign had three elements and one of those was environmental sustainability; 

2. Sustainable packaging design should consider Reusability.


A branding strategy considering a good selection of packaging materials can accomplish this point.

One of the most used reusable elements found around brands are tote-bags.

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Malski by Kuudes Helsinki & Stockholm. 

Besides accomplishing indefinite reusability they also function as an effective marketing channel. When someone goes up to the store carrying a reusable tote-bag with your brand on it, other people discover it and you stimulate brand recognition.

If you want to see more examples of tote-bags, we published a post with 10 beautiful examples of them here: 10 Tote bags

Not everything can have an intended use. Think about the packaging that can be reused according to the consumer's likes.

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BULAQUA by Kan Salt.

Glass bottles that are simple and most of the time can be cleaned up or have their labels removed or recycled can also serve as plant vases to decorate homes.

3. Sustainable packaging design should consider Raw Material innovation.


This one is a bit harder as it involves experimentation. As your are reading this, there is probably a lab somewhere around the world experimenting with new materials.

As those materials start to go into the market with new applications, there are always brands willing to risk to be the first-to-market.

One example of those brands is Bscly Sugarcane Box, a packaging made of corn that is biodegradable, compostable, eco friendly and looks good.

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Bscly Sugarcane Box by Bscly NYC.

Other innovative examples include projects where the packaging is made from the same material as the product. Peel Saver is one of those where the potato peels are used to build a cone to carry your fries while eating them.

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Peel Saver - ecological fries packaging by Simone Caronni.

More commonly used now are 100% biodegradable plastics that can be used instead of regular plastics that never decompose.

An example of biodegradable plastic bottles is Maka:

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Maka by Anagrama Studio.

Companies can also choose less damaging materials like carton over plastic and start packaging their products with them.

A great example of a project like this is Boxed Water is Better, a project boxing water instead of bottling it and employing renewable resources with a reduced carbon footprint.

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Boxed Water is Better by Boxed Water is Better

Finally, a material that has been constantly loosing market over cheaper alternatives is glass. Choosing glass over plastic will be better as glass is fully recyclable and the energy required to recycle it is much less than other recyclable materials.

Two examples of nicely designed bottle packagings are:

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Shower Beer by Snask.

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Mezcal Desolas by VVORKROOM -.

4. Sustainable packaging design should consider Recycling as an origin.


Finally, the excess of packaging materials being used by the consumers around the world opens the door to using recycled materials as an input.

Clemen Sunscreen is one of those projects that look very good and employ recycled paper to fabricate their packaging:

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I:I Clemen Sunscreen by Eila Aliaño.

We hope you enjoyed reading about sustainable packaging design and leave you with a list of references that may help you in your packaging design process:

Creative Agencies and Creatives mentioned with their work on this post:
Brandi Steele
Kuudes
Kan Salt
Simone Caronni
Anagrama Studio
Snask
VVORKROOM
Eila Aliaño

Organizations supporting sustainable packaging:
Sustainable Packaging Coalition
The Consumer Goods Forum
Institute of Packaging Professionals

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