Sourceful Blog

Sustainable design: how we approach packaging design

Ali Straessle · Apr 13th, 2021 · 8 min read

Getting a product to market is no easy task. Your design will have been through many rounds of strategising, development and testing before it meets your audience. And there’s no reason not to apply the same rigorous design principles to your packaging, in order to give your product the best possible launchpad. Your packaging design must of course be functional first and foremost, to ensure that your product reaches your customer safely. It should then act as a marketing tool that represents and promotes your brand, at a price point that makes sense to you. That’s already a lot to consider, but at Sourceful we like to encourage brands to think about how they can meet all of these objectives in a way that is also sustainable.

Designing sustainable packaging

Sustainability is a growing concern amongst consumers: 57% of consumers are less likely to buy products in packaging that's harmful to the environment.

Businesses clearly need to cater to this changing attitude if they are to retain and grow their customer base. So, how can this be done? The most radical carbon reduction can be achieved by re-thinking the entire business model. By going back to the drawing board, companies may be able to identify where they can eliminate the need for single-use packaging, reduce the amount of material needed, or optimise a design to make re-use or recycling easier. Once these structural changes have been explored companies can take the additional step of optimising the materials that comprise their packaging. This whole systems approach enables brands to discover packaging design solutions that best meet customers’ sustainability expectations without compromising on either the function or appeal of their current offering.

The hierarchy of priorities

How then do you decide on the best course of action? You can use the below hierarchy of priorities, ranked in descending order of greatest positive impact. This model encourages you to analyse the fundamentals – your business model, product shapes and sizes, how packaging flat-packs – and identify which changes could produce the biggest outcome.

Companies that are prepared to redesign their offering will make the biggest gains by considering their options in this order:

Prevention

This means re-thinking your packaging and using a more sustainable design to ensure that your packaging meets its requirements using the minimum amount of material. At Sourceful we never upsell extraneous items, we believe efficiency is the smartest choice for both businesses and the planet.

Minimisation

Not just reducing the number of layers of packaging, but also the volume of material used – resulting in the additional benefit of more efficient shipment and storage.

Re-use

Consider designing a package that your customer could put to another use – perhaps something that they could refill or repurpose.

Recycle

If you’re able to choose recyclable packaging materials, you can maximise their benefit by incorporating sustainable design for ease of recycling – for example, by simplifying the way a box folds or avoiding the use of black inks that are not recognised by recycling facilities.

Understanding product life cycles

Only once you know your fundamentals are fully optimised for efficiency is it worth zeroing in on your packaging components. There is more to this than simply substituting non-recyclable materials for recyclable ones; you need to consider an item’s whole lifecycle to get an accurate measure of its environmental impact. Once you understand every stage you can optimise each one for price and performance, and ensure that no one process results in unintended harmful consequences. The packaging lifecycle can be broken down into the following key stages:

1. Material

The raw materials selected should give packaging its necessary functionalities throughout its life cycle, and be extracted with minimum possible harm to the environment. For example, you may assume that paper packaging is always a more environmentally friendly choice, but that’s not the case if the paper’s properties result in product damage or spoilage and therefore waste further down the line.

2. Manufacturing

Here, we need to consider not just the amount of energy consumed by the manufacturing process, but the sustainability of the energy source and potential pollutants in the waste products generated.

3. Processing

This is the point at which your packaging is transformed into a branding tool. The aim here is to create maximum impact for your brand while doing minimum damage to the planet, so every element – from the form your packaging design takes to the inks, foils and embossing that may comprise its finishing touches – needs to be carefully considered.

4. Logistics and distribution

The means by which you store and transport your packaging should be optimised for carbon efficiency. For example, sea freight is more carbon efficient than air freight. At Sourceful we take the additional step of offsetting the CO2 emissions of all our shipments.

5. End of life

Recycling, reuse, energy recovery and composting are all ethical options for packaging that has served its purpose – this final stage will be determined by the decision made at the start of the cycle.

Putting theory into practice: Floom

At Sourceful, we’re experienced in designing sustainable packaging. Prior to working with us, online florist platform Floom packaged their bouquets in a large, one-size-fits-all box that used thick polypropylene tape to secure it. When we assessed the packaging requirements from first principles we saw an opportunity to minimise the amount of material being used. We created two bespoke boxes for Floom that saved them 7% in materials and 15% in costs. We were also able to source cardboard boxes with a self-adhesive strip and box zip, removing the need for the plastic tape. It’s innovative design like this that helps convince customers that sustainable choices are genuinely better propositions, not simply substitutes or compromises for the options that they’re used to.

Sustainable solutions from Sourceful

Having concluded that we want to put as little packaging out into the world as possible, it follows that whatever we do produce will have to deliver on multiple fronts. Sourceful is here to help you achieve the balance of designing sustainable packaging that functionally protects your product, delivers a great customer experience, represents your brand and is as environmentally friendly as possible. Packaging design tells a story, and at Sourceful we help ensure that you are telling the one you want. We’re passionate about helping businesses do better and have a track record of finding a perfectly tailored solution for each company we work with. Our deep understanding of product lifecycles means that whatever your business, we can identify areas where there’s a saving to be made, both for you and the planet.

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