Sustainable thinking is by no means a new philosophy. For decades, theorists have been warning of the need to become more eco-friendly.
Yet, the trend of taking action rather than just talking is relatively new. This is manifest in the role that design can play to help the environment, and no discipline within the industry knows about this more than packaging.
Since designers have been inclined to brandish their Green credentials, many consultancies have come a long way. At the beginning of March, for example, design group Dragon Rouge produced a guide called Green Graphics, which explores creative and practical ways to create sustainable packaging.
Aiming to stamp out the myth that environmentally friendly packaging design is ‘dull’, as well as demonstrate that less can actually mean more when it comes to shelf standout, the guide considers ways of using colour and layout to reduce ink usage and label size.
‘As designers, we are aware that our decisions can impact the environment in many ways,’ says Dragon Rouge designer Teri van Selm.
‘The print, paper and plastics industries are a massive source of environmental harm. We know that we can do more than simply print on recycled paper, so we have developed this guide as a toolkit,’ she adds.
Each section of the guide explores different ways to approach Green design, such as using different paper colours, reducing materials usage by cutting back on card, using more white space to reduce ink consumption and creating shelf impact while using less colour. It is backed up by a number of eye-catching examples from various designers. ‘Dragon Rouge has always had its heart in sustainability, but we are aware of how hard it is for brands to find their way through all the eco-murk,’ van Selm adds.
Pearlfisher is another group that prides itself on its ‘enviromentality’. The consultancy has a feeling that the world can be turned into a better place by design.
‘We try to help everybody think about which principles make designs more sustainable when it comes to packaging,’ says the consultancy’s realisation director Darren Foley. ‘The Nude skincare range is an example. Can we deliver a premium skincare brand that is good at its heart?
‘With Jordans cereals we made that sure we used materials with the highest possible recycled content. We try to make sure the team thinks about what they are doing. We say, “How about using this material, or reducing the size of the bottle or label?”. When Innocent first launched, its bottles had no recyclable content – like most drinks back then. Its packs are now 100 per cent recyclable, but the company took it step by step.
Some people set targets too high and don’t achieve them and feel disappointed. They should set targets, reach them, then improve on them.’
The recent War on Waste report from the Local Government Association highlights how important the need for creating sustainable packaging is.
This is one way the design industry is able to make a genuine contribution towards reducing human impact on the environment, by helping to cut the UK’s 25 million tonnes of household waste per year.
However, while using only black and white ink may help, it is not a black and white subject. Kat Clark, Coley Porter Bell senior planner, says, ‘The term “sustainable packaging” can have many different meanings, from recycled, to recyclable, lightweight, locally sourced or biodegradable. At the same time, best practice thinking on sustainable materials and processes is constantly evolving.’
This is why CPB has developed partnerships with leaders in environmental thinking, such as Eco3 for packaging products. A small not-for-profit group, Three Trees Don’t Make a Forest, intends to go a step further. This social enterprise ambitiously aspires to be ‘the catalyst for the creation of a zero-carbon design industry’. On its website there is a knowledge bank for the design community, to encourage this outcome.
All this sustainable inspiration would not be possible without the conformity of brands and supermarkets, which are on the frontline when it comes to grumbles over excessive amounts of packaging. Most are under increasing pressure to meet reduction targets.
With the help of Elmwood, Asda has met its targets. Mandy Maynard, project manager for Asda at the consultancy, says that small changes can have a big effect when dealing with large volumes. ‘The trick is to create a simple design that still gives quality cues for the customer, is relevant to the product and has an idea behind it, even if you’re restricted to the size of a postage stamp,’ she says.
Of late, it would be almost impossible to find a packaging consultancy that does not have a Green strategy. This is heartening, considering that the role of design is central to the longevity of our environment.