packaging lifecycle

SustPack2015, a sustainable packaging conference, put on by Smithers Pira and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition was held last week in Orlando, Florida. Bryan Shova, Industrial Design Director at Kaleidoscope, was asked to speak about the considerations of brand equity and sustainable packaging design. And according to the attendee list that was supplied with every conference program, there were few other representatives from the design industry.

Sustainability has a long road ahead of it, and there is opportunity for the design industry to play a bigger part. Many of the technological advancements in sustainable packaging suffer from issues that could be tackled through partnership with strong design thinkers. The design industry can also help to bring the conversation about sustainable packaging design further upstream. Here are three important things to consider when it comes to designing for sustainability.

1. Sustainable Packaging Design has No Hope without Collaboration

Collaboration was a key theme that ran rampant throughout the conference. Scientists, packaging developers, materials suppliers and packaging manufacturers were all in attendance, but these individuals neither control demand generation nor the consumer experience, which are a result of the positioning, opening ceremony, branding and graphics. These are the responsibilities of marketing and design.

In the same vein, collaboration is a theme often discussed at design conferences. It is typically laced with suggestions on how to forge design into boardroom and business conversations. Sustainable packaging design is an opportunity for the design industry to further prove itself to the business world.

The organizations at the forefront of sustainability have amazing ideas, but it is going to take collaboration with designers and marketers to succeed. Marketers have control over budgets and the dialogue with consumers. And designers have the ability to reinterpret sustainable packaging technology into actual packages that signal something new to consumers; they have a responsibility to proactively inform themselves and bring that information to the table.

2. Make Sure the Product Inside the Package is Compelling

Bioplastics, especially, amaze me, but every topic discussed at SustPack 2015 fueled curiosity and innovative thinking. Sustainable packaging innovators continue to push the boundaries of their technologies. They have big jobs and little time to devote to solving the inevitable question: how is this going to make money? Let’s face it – whether your company is “for profit” or “not for profit” – money makes the world go round, and everyone needs revenue.

In order to generate revenue for these technologies, there needs to be demand. In order to generate demand, end users must actually want to buy the products in these packages. Anecdotal study results shared throughout the conference point to the fact that consumers appreciate sustainable packaging, but it is not a compelling point of difference if the brand promise or product expectations are not met.

3. Think about End-of-Life Recovery at the Beginning

The sustainability payoff for some of these technologies has more to do with end-of-life recovery than actual materials, so the consumer would ultimately need to understand his or her role in recycling or composting. These are big communication challenges that, in many cases, will need to be told on pack – clearly and simply – and supported across an integrated marketing campaign. The How2Recycle campaign is a program marketers and manufacturers can utilize to support sustainable packaging design.

A lot of consumers would be disappointed to know that numerous items they’ve attempted to recycle or compost actually get diverted to landfills. The reason: many recyclable and compostable products and packages look too similar to non-sustainable items and can’t easily be differentiated by workers sorting the recycling streams – think flexible packaging and compostable flatware. As a result, recycling and composting centers work under the premise of ‘when in doubt, throw it out.’ Some regional policymakers have even banned sustainable items from the recycling and compost streams.

As sustainable packaging developers create new materials, they are utilizing existing product and packaging forms to prove them out. ZealaFoam is a great example – it looks and feels like polystyrene, does the same job as polystyrene, but it’s bio-based and can be disposed of through industrial composting. But how do you expect someone at a composting center to distinguish between the two? Sounds like a great design challenge, and it is definitely something that design industry professionals needs to consider when it comes to the creative brief for packaging design.

What tips do you have to share when it comes to sustainable packaging?