November 7, 2013

Why Sustainable Packaging Design Matters

Why Sustainable Packaging Design Matters

Sustainable packaging design is all the marketing rage, quite frankly. As we’ve discussed in previous articles, ecologically sound packaging may make the difference between product success and design immortality or write ups in snarky yet undeniably wise design blogs.

We strongly encourage all package designers to use sustainable design concepts exclusively, if possible. We hate, hate, hate packaging for the sake of packaging – if a product is, for example, a bananaa fruit that comes with its own, nature-made packaging – additional wrapping isn’t just silly, it’s downright negligent.

What is “sustainable,” really?

When the term “sustainable” is thrown around, it’s typically meant to mean something that can be produced and reproduced more or less infinitely with little or no adverse effect on the environment. If we’re being honest, nothing achieves this goal. Although sustainable processes might not destroy the immediate environs by spewing toxic runoff directly into the faces of local school children, anything, and we mean anything, that is mass produced by man is going to have a negative effect on our ecosystem in some direct or indirect fashion eventually. Even the most outwardly responsible product manufacturer is generating some kind of waste; if it isn’t from the final product fabrication itself, someone, somewhere along the supply chain someone is doing something evil to dolphins or bald eagles or marshlands. From an administrative point of view, the water, electricity, gas, supplies, computers, vending machines and other necessities in the corporate offices aren’t exactly doing the earth any favors, either.

Oh, we’ve all heard of corporations that want to set an example by being entirely solar or wind powered, using wholly recycled materials or sectioning off specific, non-rainforest forests for renewable lumber. But, like the late, great George Carlin once said, as long as there are human beings on the planet, there is going to be a need for stuff, and that stuff is going to have to come from somewhere, and when it’s no longer being used, not all of it is headed for the recycling plant.

Given what human nature is, the only thing we can do is try to mitigate some of the damage by not engaging in manufacturing processes that we know will turn the earth into a barren lump of carbon before Christmas. Savvy product manufacturers will try to capitalize on their environmental foresight by making darned sure that customers know that their sports drink/kale chip/under eye renewal cream packaging is responsibly sourced and “sustainable,” even if the consumer immediately throws the empty containers directly into a storm drain.

Oh, why do we even bother?

Well, we do what we can to lessen the damage. Sustainable packaging design, if it was to become more widely practiced, could succeed in suspending the erosion of the planet for several generations, at least! If we’re being cynical and blood thirsty, we need to embrace sustainable packaging design for the benefit of our bottom line. People like to think that they’re helping the world in some minor way by deliberately purchasing what they’ve been told is an eco-friendly product.

Environmental responsibility can also help reduce costs of production. By lowering the amount of necessary packaging materials, you can increase profits significantly. By appealing to the tree-hugging instinct of the customer, you can increase sales. It’s a win-win situation, really!

We encourage everyone in the design world to study up on sustainable packaging design trends and innovations. Join packaging design associations (the Sustainable Packaging Coalition is definitely worth investigating). Attend conferences and seminars. Read industry magazines and blogs devoted to environmental friendliness. This is the wave of the packaging future, buddy; better learn how to surf.

We don’t want to give anyone the wrong impression; yes, we applaud the desire to manufacture products and packaging in a responsible way. No, we aren’t a bunch of jackals looking to scrape out a profit by insincerely appealing to the sentimental nature of the public. Yes, we recycle.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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