What Is Sustainable Design?

What is Sustainable Design?

Sustainable design, also known as environmental design, environmentally sustainable design, environmentally conscious design and more, is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of social, economic and ecological sustainability. Sustainable design is important because by charging those who make products and packaging to use sustainable materials, it allows for consumers to purchase those products and better “close the loop.”

Companies Focus on Sustainable Packaging

For many big name companies, there has recently been an increased focus on sustainable packaging.

Amcor, the Australian-based, multinational packaging company recently released sustainability-minded, flexible food packaging which is made of renewable fibers and reportedly, deliver a significant reduction in carbon footprint over the course of their lifecycle.

Another company setting sustainable packaging goals is Dell. In a press release last month, Dell announced ambitious sustainable packaging initiatives, including goals for a waste-free packaging stream by 2020 and a new wheat straw material that turns agricultural waste into boxes. Dell aims to achieve these goals by ensuring that 100 percent of Dell packaging is sourced from sustainable materials, including recycled and rapidly renewable content, or material that was formerly part of the waste stream; and ensuring that 100 percent of Dell packaging is either recyclable or compostable at the end of its life.

Nestlé started exploring environmentally friendly packaging in 1994 and now, almost 20 years later, half-liter water bottles are 60 percent lighter. Since 2003, the company has saved 3.3 billion pounds of plastic. Recently, Nestlé rolled out new bottles made from 50 percent recycled PET. The company is hoping the bottles will help promote closed-loop PET bottle recycling.

Over the past three years, Sprint has improved the sustainability of their packaging 55 percent.

“Careful, innovation-driven design and production choices have enabled a 55 percent reduction in the environmental effect of Sprint-branded device packaging since 2009,” says Mark Rexroat, director of retail communications and marketing services at Sprint. “This industry-leading makeover left no stone unturned; we reworked everything from raw materials to inks to adhesives.”

The white paper detailing Sprint’s sustainability efforts can be found here.

Another company with a focus on sustainable packaging is Simple Green. Simple Green announced that over a year of research was spent to create a more sustainable package. The new spray bottle trigger, made entirely of plastic and reduced resin content has been honored with a Gold Award by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA), in its 2013 Packaging and Merchandising Awards Program. The new bottle contains nothing but plastic, increasing its recyclability.

Steps Toward Sustainable Packaging

In a recent article from Environmental Leader by Kyla Fisher, corporate sustainability director for PaperWorks, Kyla mentions, “No matter what the company decides to include in its sustainability mix, there will be no greater backlash than the waste of fully-costed products.”

Some points Fisher urges producers to consider are to reduce material with care, follow the industry guidelines, don’t just reduce, reuse and to test packaging redesigns for consumer preference.  Fisher argues, “ Each measure towards sustainability has an impact further up or down the product’s lifecycle—understanding the whole picture helps drive comprehensive sustainability.“

Sustainability = Responsibility

In an article from Packaging World contributing editor Ron Romanik mentions how unfortunate it is that there is still a lot of ignorance and misinformation in the packaging community about sustainability and what it really means. Misconceptions abound, such as “It’s always more expensive,” “It’s only about renewable materials,” or “It’s just one characteristic of a package.”

In order for companies to embrace sustainability as a main factor in the packaging process, these misconceptions must be eradicated.

Sustainable Design Guidelines

The ISTA (International Safe Transit Association), an organization focused on the specific concerns of transport packaging, has developed a design protocol for responsible packaging called ISTA’s Responsible Packaging by Design. The guide is a step-by-step process management standard for the design, testing and qualification of responsible packaging that meets industry, consumer and regulatory expectations. Larry Dull, chair of ISTA Sustainability Solutions Division notes,

“Until now, there has not been one unified standard that would ensure that everyone is on the same page, meeting all of the applicable industry and package functional requirements while taking into consideration all the new sustainability initiatives that have been introduced in the past decade.”

The Responsible Packaging guide is an important tool and guideline for companies and will encourage producers to stick to the industry standard when creating packaging.

The ISTA’s mission is to develop and deliver standards, educational programs and tools for the economic, social and environmental optimization of packaging systems.

Educating on Sustainable Packaging

A few organizations which strive to deliver education on sustainable packaging are IoPP (Institute of Packaging Professionals), the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, GreenBlue and APR  (the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers).

Last month IoPP hosted a packaging education conference at the HBA (Health and Beauty Aid) global expo in NYC.  IoPP also hosts online courses in the Fundamentals for packaging technology and more.

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition hosts many events and sustainable packaging projects. One featured project is called Compass, an online design software that allows packaging designers and engineers to assess the human and environmental impacts of their package designs using a life cycle approach.

Another organization which advocates sustainable design is GreenBlue®, a nonprofit that equips business with the science and resources to make products more sustainable.

Additionally, APR is a large supporter of sustainable design. The organization promotes the development of the plastics recycling industry by providing leadership for long-term industry growth and vitality.

In addition to these organizations, established brands are also contributing to sustainable design. Nike recently unveiled a new app called MAKING, a tool to aid designers in choosing sustainable materials. The introductory video states, “We believe it’s time for a new age of design, an age where sustainability isn’t just an added benefit—it’s built into all products right from the beginning.”

With the aid of organizations which make it their mission to educate others about sustainable design and companies who are sustainable design advocates, it is our hope that closed loop recycling will be completely integrated into our daily lives.

image from Dell on Flickr

[ninja_forms_display_form id=1]