Vibrandt’s Sandom on eco-innovation

Reduce or reinvent? Why choose when you can do both, and help clients innovate with a clear conscience
at the same time? says John Sandom

Over the past few years, the imperative to reduce, recycle, return and reuse has been a hot industry topic. But who drives the ideal into reality?

Consumers say they want less, but don’t want to pay more. Manufacturers say they want to be environmentally responsible, but baulk at large sums involved in reconfiguring production lines or investing in new technology, and retailers want to set and control the standard.

Design consultancies play up their eco-credentials, but without an end-to-end engagement with the client they may wind up just pushing the negative environmental impact to another part of the lifecycle.

Often, it seems easier to simply make ‘Greenification’ someone else’s responsibility, especially when environmentally focused projects seem more about losing than winning.

However, things could be different. Initiatives to reduce and recycle packaging are crucial, but why not use the opportunity to reinvent and rejuvenate products and brands at the same time?

A key player helping to drive this idea into reality is the Waste & Resources Action Programme.

Established in 2001, this Government-funded initiative has been an effective catalyst for change, prompting major brands to consult key players in their supply chain with a view to driving out waste and increase the amount of recycling. This holistic perspective allows for lateral thinking on innovation and environmental issues. For example, a Wrap study released in August found that sending the UK’s used plastic bottles and paper for recycling in China actually saves carbon emissions, compared to sending them to landfill at home.

Iconic industrial designer Raymond Loewy quipped that ‘weight is the enemy’, but weight reduction is not the only way to ‘go Green’.

Is it better to have a pack that is made from a super-lightweight laminated plastic, or one that is made from heavier, but recyclable, corrugated board? Which one stands out on the shelf? Which one communicates the brand values better? Which one protects the product better? Damaged products create waste and batter supply chain and customer satisfaction.

So, what do you need to be a reduction artist?

Like any artist, you need skills. You need end-toned expertise to help clients find the real solutions, and not just the Greenwashing.

We at Vibrandt have consciously developed a ‘cradle-to-grave’ approach to product innovation and brand design.

The launch of Vibrandt Form, our product design and innovation specialist offshoot, squares the circle of branded packaging and brand strategy divisions.

Clients can now draw on highly skilled and creative teams, ideally placed to find innovation opportunities across product, structure, branding, communication and strategy.

With raw material prices rising (up between 5 per cent and 70 per cent over the past five years), clients may consider added investment in sustainable packaging an ill-timed luxury. But any expenditure can be easily returned many times over compared to the significant savings made possible through environmental initiatives and policies.

Innovative use of new and old materials can be exploited in interesting ways to create brand differentiation – consider, for example, bio plastics made from sugar cane and corn starch, recycled pulp boards and re-engineered plastics. Brands should consider some of the amazing tactile and sensory qualities to recycled materials as they plan their portfolio extensions.

Punching above your ecological weight?

Companies we’ve worked with, like Dairy Crest and Persil, have made great virtues out of going Greener. Dairy Crest recently launched milk packed in lightweight laminated pouches, giving a 75 per cent weight saving over conventional plastic milk bottles. Pouches are used in the distinctive Jug It reusable jug, giving the company an opportunity to redefine the entire milk consumption brand experience. Now, that’s thinking outside the box (or should that be bottle?).

Persil’s Small & Mighty is a great example of branding taking product innovation that extra step, communicating how the extra concentration and smaller footprint give great results and a truly differentiated brand.

With today’s constrained budgets, it’s going to be those brands that demonstrate integrated innovation across product and communications that will forge ahead of the competition.

As more and more brands embrace tactics like recycling, composting, lower carbon footprints, and sustainable and ethical sourcing, the point of difference will become increasingly diluted and the opportunity to reinvent will become ever more critical.

John Sandom is chief executive officer of Vibrandt

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