Greener Packaging Design

One of industrial design’s most influential and prominent figure in terms of ecological design and social responsibility would be the late Victor Papanek. When he graduated and stepped into the design profession, he was disappointed to learn that a very major chunk of product design are mere surface styling aimed squarely to spur sales and consumption, leading to him opining that industrial design is probably the second phoniest job in the world for creating things that people didn’t need (advertising would be the phoniest, since they persuade people to want these in the first place).

Indeed, as I graduated and joined the profession myself, this nagging question would surface every now-and-then. Sometimes we would be required to create designs for products that I’d personally see as frivolous and gimmicky – they are not innovative and adds little value to life, and exist primarily only because the market “demands” it. While these products may be justified if you look at profits-and-costs, sometimes it’s rather perplexing to imagine the amount of human and natural resources – months of manhours from design to production to marketing, raw materials in the plastic and metal parts, packaging, promotion, point-of-sale material, etc. – for just one product (likely amidst a whole line of similar products).

Of course, dough is what these projects give, and dough is what we need to put food on the table. But even as we take on these projects, I think it’s still extremely important for designers to realize the power they have in helping to reduce our footprint on the planet. For instance, it is not unimaginable for designers to be working on products that are planned to sell in the millions. If you think about it, every millimeter of material we specify translates to 1km of material in a 1-million-unit production. We are in a very privileged, and hence responsible position to reduce the ecological impact, perhaps much more than many other professions.

And often, they do not have to translate to sacrifices in product image or function. At times, they may even be enhancements, as some of these redesigned product packaging show (taken from NYTimes’ article):

Greener Packaging

Clockwise from top-left:
1) Coca-Cola 8-ounce bottle: A smaller and lighter bottle (while retaining the same capacity), resulting in reduction in materials used: savings on the material as well as transport costs.
2) Arrowhead Mineral Water bottle: Nestle redesigned the bottle and cap to make it lighter and more recyclable, while narrowing the label by half an inch. This result in a 30% reduction in plastics used (while featuring the extra recess as handle), and less paper for the label.
3) Big Mac packaging: This is a familiar one – The styrofoam clamshell burger packagings were switched to the current paper-based ones, making them biodegradable.
4) Crest Toothpaste: P&G introduced a standalone rigid tube for Crest toothpaste, so that there wouldn’t be a need for individual paper-based boxes that most toothpastes now still come in.

As you can see, sometimes subtle decisions we make as we’re designing can indeed have a great impact down the line. While we may not be a green activist, being conscious of these responsibilities would certainly go a long way to alleviating the toll that our Earth is bearing.


24 comments so far

  1. Andrew on

    I really liked this article, let’s hope this is a continuing trend!

  2. Gems Sty on

    Hi Andrew,

    I’m glad you liked the article! πŸ™‚

  3. Stiven Kerestegian on

    Nice article Jesh,
    There is so much room for improvement in this area and we desigenrs are definitely the right people to push for and prove that innovation and good design is inherently
    sustainable. For more please visit my blog on similar subjects.

  4. Gems Sty on

    Hey Stiven!

    Great blog you have on sustainability there! It’s an important (if not critical) issue for all of us – and great that it’s getting more attention. Do drop by often! πŸ™‚

    (btw, I’m not Jesh – Jesh is the photographer whose works I stumbled upon – I only wish I had half his talents!)


  5. […] Found via Gems Sty […]

  6. ALM on

    Many years ago in an excess of naivete, I sent around to about 50 manufacturers providing product in boxed tubes a proposal to manufacture tubes various rigid shapes that could be stacked, rectangular, hexagonal, etc.And the boxes would not be needed. I received not one nibble. Some sent the proposal back unopened to avoid the possibility of a patent infringement lawsuit I presume. The lesson I learned was to avoid invention marketers.

  7. Gems Sty on

    ALM: So what happened in the end? Did you take the product to market yourself?

  8. noer123 on

    Hi there – and a happy new year!

    I am glad to see that you take up this subject which definitely will be one of my major concerns in the time come.

    Last year we did the first “exercise” and reduced the weight on one of our injection moulded packagings causing a yearly saving of 50 tons of raw material! That was quite a good feeling…
    And as we have a considerable amount of similar tools the gains could be quite significant.

    However I am also very concerned about the political factors in the sustainability discussion. From what I hear from our customers it seems to be more important to be political correct rather than well documented. Am I right?

  9. Gems Sty on

    Hi noer123,

    What do you mean by being politically correct, and how has being P.C. hindered being ecologically friendlier in your experience? So far in my experience I haven’t seen sustainability traded for political correctness – it’s perhaps more of apathy (nobody even bothers or sets sustainability as a criteria).

  10. noer123 on

    Being political correct is about giving an image of a popular concern without really going out the line.
    You show up the right attitude and yet you do not really manage to move your business in the said direction, because it is so difficult – (and expensive…)
    So the intentions are there – but only a few have the idealism to set the directions. I have seen major corporations saying what they do on sustainabilty issues – without really doing what they say!
    That’s why I think ‘sustainability’ unfortunately is a lot about politics and less about reality.

  11. Gems Sty on

    I see…looks like you’re stuck behind what is commonly known as “green-washing” as opposed to a real, sincere effort to be green. That “green” is addressed simply because consumers care – hey it’s the flavor of the month – or even simply to sell more of the products. This is certainly frustrating – greenwashing to manipulate the consumer’s perception. It does seem like green simply becomes a function of marketing at times.

  12. noer123 on

    Greenwashing! What a saying term!
    However frustated I may sound I do however try to understand the eco mechanisms and come up with some solutions within our field.
    Just need to convince those marketing guys… πŸ˜‰

  13. john brinsteen on

    mydad is at work no bt hell be bak soon……….

  14. Lara Ashford on

    I love Cheese

  15. Taylor Gardiner on

    I love cheese too dont worry

    Cheese i love it epecially when its melted

  16. Bobby on

    I thought this page was awesome
    heaps of useful information for school invention things


  17. Cinta on

    this site rocks!

  18. john brinsteen on

    cheese is really yuck you dumb fags…..
    and u no how on scrubs wen tht guy gets to have sex he gets real excitd

  19. Gems Sty on

    Thanks Bobby and Cinta!

  20. john brintsteen on

    i have to fart reaalllyy bad.

  21. k on


  22. z dot man dot on

    i like ha5, iz nice

  23. John Brinsteen on

    I am such a retard!!!!!!!! I am so sorri for what i said back to those two b-e-a-utiful girls before i didn’t mean it. I love cheese too but mum said that i have to stop because i will turn into a balloon. But i only weigh 79.45 and i am twelve years old. Thats not that bad!!!!!!! I am such an idiot. I LOVE CHEESE

  24. alexa chung hair on

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