Environmental concerns are not merely a trend; they are issues crucial to the endurance of the planet and the entire human (and animal) population. That being said, making your product packaging environmentally friendly is a great way to boost sales and appeal to a young, hip demographic. Cynical? Maybe. Realistic? You betcha.
“Green” packaging and “green” products in general have become ubiquitous in today’s corporate climate. Thirty years ago, environmentally friendly products were exclusively the dominion of your standard-issue, tree-hugging, long-haired hippie. Today, everyone (and we do mean everyone) is getting in on the act. Even though, strictly speaking, many companies are simply using the “green” moniker on particular product lines for the purpose of appealing to a larger consumer base without significantly altering production methods on their baseline products. Hey, everyone’s gotta make a living, right?
Ecologically responsible product packaging makes us, as consumers, feel better about the products, the companies that manufacture them and ourselves for even being concerned. We’ve become conspicuously horrified at images of landfills teeming with un-recycled plastic bottles and little seagulls being poisoned by chemical runoff. We want the comfort of knowing that the clam-shell containers that protect our fruit, office supplies and electronics have been recycled or fabricated with sustainable materials.
So, is it possible to achieve an environmentally responsible package without compromising the integrity of the product? We’re getting there. We’ve got corn-based packing materials and recycled plastics, as well as technologies that allow us to manufacture products with significantly less waste than ever before. We’ve also got package designers that have the expertise and, most importantly, the heart to create product packaging that uses no less and no more materials than absolutely necessary. Could you please hand us our halos?
Less is More
There are still some of us who think that environmentally friendly packaging automatically means anything wrapped in hemp. Not so. Sometimes, just reducing the amount of materials is sufficient, and when the reduced materials are recycled, the overall material residue shrinks even further.
There is no need for a superabundance of packaging; anyone who bought CDs in the late ’80s and early ’90s can attest to that (remember? Those boxes were, like, two feet long). However, the need to minimize damage and spoilage in shipping still exists, therefore some measure of protection will always be needed. Oftentimes, the answer to waste and bruising lies in packaging that is not only small enough to fit many units into one shipping pallet, but also shaped in a manner that will allow a tight, secure pack. Let’s not forget, reducing the number of pallets per shipment is a significant carbon footprint shrinkage.
So, when you think about bottle design, for example, try to think about shapes that are geometrically suited for mass shipment. Funky, hourglass-shaped bottles may be cool, but how many of those suckers can you fit into a single shipping crate? Will rectangular designs be more efficient? Won’t that be a major reduction in shipping costs? Ah, now we’ve got your attention.
Environmentally and Financially Friendly
Because “green chic” is becoming so wide spread, we can easily anticipate a time when environmentally sound packaging becomes widely produced, and therefore quite cheap. Unfortunately, materials such as bamboo and textiles are prohibitively expensive for most small companies. However, with the burgeoning technology for producing biodegradable plastics as well as the consumer demand, we will go ahead and predict that ecologically sound manufacturing processes will ultimately become the less expensive alternative.
Once people truly turn their sentiment into action, manufacturers will scramble to use environmentally responsible technologies. An Innventia study found that 50 percent of American consumers surveyed said that they found plastic packaging harmful to the environment. So, how come 50 percent of American consumers haven’t completely stopped buying plastic? We can jump-start this phenomenon by giving people who buy products packaged in standard plastics the stink-eye when we see them in line at Whole Foods.