Sustainable Packaging for a Green Future
Around 71% of consumers consider packaging sustainability when deciding which products to buy, according to The Buying Green Report 2023. This shift in consumer behaviour has only expanded with the growing awareness of environmental issues like pollution, habitat degradation and global warming.
Despite social and economic proof that people care about the package their products come in, single-use plastics continue to harm our ecosystems. According to the United Nations Environment Program, our planet is ‘choking on plastic’, with 36% of all plastics products produced being used in packaging. It’s almost impossible for nature to break down plastic, so it floats through waterways and piles up on land, creating an unmanageable amount of waste with devastating consequences on our health, environment and society.
Luckily, there’s a growing movement of designers committed to making a difference before it even reaches the consumer’s hands. Read on to discover how design-led thinking is contributing to a packaging revolution with the health of our planet firmly in mind.
Design-thinking for change
While there’s no definitive answer for what sustainable packaging design should look like, the general consensus is that it aims to balance function and environmental impact. This sees things such as materials and recyclability come to the fore as factors beyond general aesthetics are prioritised.
Holistic design thinking in product packaging has steadily begun to empower this realignment. It’s seen companies increasingly strive to understand their place in a global issue and begin carving out a new way forward. Not only is it making a difference environmentally, it’s capturing a consumer market that’s ready to get involved.
There are a few main stages of design-led thinking that could be used to help product companies successfully go green, including:
- Empathising and understanding user needs
- Defining the problem
- Generating creative solutions
- Creating and testing prototypes
- Using feedback to evolve
The Australian Good Design Awards has celebrated numerous initiatives and innovations implementing these vital steps. By exploring two exemplar Award winners, we can see it all come to life.
2021 Good Design Award Gold Winner
Plastic is waterproof, light-weight and familiar. Its reliability is unfortunately hard to beat, yet Great Wrap proves that by looking a little outside the box, it isn’t unbeatable. In fact, it shows that sustainable packaging that can not only compete, but come out on top.
Its designers recognised that they first needed to consider what attracted people to the unsustainable status-quo. They found that most consumers were simply used to the the way the regular packaging worked and looked, which exposed a hesitance of change as the defining roadblock. It required the team to empathise with user needs and their expectations of practicality to carve out a smooth journey towards a sustainable alternative.
The result was compostable cling wrap made from food waste that looked and functioned almost identically to the plastic norm. Great Wrap respected that cling wrap itself wasn’t a broken concept, but it recognised an opportunity for it to be optimised. The expected waterproof, light-weight and familiar feel was therefore retained so consumers didn’t need to overtly change their everyday practices.
Great Mate – 2022 Good Design Award Winner – was introduced the following year, with the company helping people further minimise their reliance on single-use plastics with a refillable cling wrap dispenser. Every dispenser reused 33 ocean-bound plastic bottles to fully greenify the cling wrap experience, all while offering glitch-free wrapping and graceful slicing.
2022 Good Design Award Best in Class
Paper and cardboard materials are probably what comes to mind when most people think of sustainable packaging. However, design-led thinking asks us to create holistic solutions that seek every opportunity for improvements. If we apply this perspective to packaging, the factors that designers need to consider when selecting a material are no longer limited to whether it’s recyclable or biodegradable.
A design-led approach to selecting materials considers big-picture details like where materials come from. For example, the location and green policy of the supplier can significantly impact how sustainable packing actually is. Transporting materials long distances on planes and trucks can create harmful fuel emissions that contribute to global warming. Additionally, if packaging isn’t produced in-house under the guidance of a product company’s own green policy, designers should ensure materials are coming from a well-researched supplier.
To avoid ‘green washing’, companies can use design-led thinking to choose what their packaging is made from, and make a positive impact on the planet – just like Ethique’s lipsticks. Every element of their push-up tube is home-compostable and recyclable. While most companies coat their cardboard packaging with a thin layer of plastic coating, they chose a naturally-sourced water based liner.
Known as ‘the lipstick designed to be buried’, Ethique’s use of design-led thinking is evident in the product’s positive contribution to our ecosystem. When customers are finished using the product as a lipstick, blush or eyeshadow, they can bury it in their garden to nourish the soil.
Awarding sustainable design
Good Design Australia aspires to advocate for design’s place in a more sustainable future. The Sustainability Award category of our Good Design Index is brimming with past winners who have demonstrated innovation and compassion during their design process.
DIVE INTO THE GOOD DESIGN INDEX HERE