Sustainable viewpoint as a competitive advantage

Concepts such as design for environment (DfE) and product life cycle to envision more sustainable packaging

by Luis Bartolomei,
CEO and Head of Creation

I have always been interested in the world of packaging. One of the reasons for my interest is that the world is constantly changing. Today I see that sustainability plays a key role in this area. I have been working with packaging for many years, so I can tell that the concern with returnability and recyclability when designing packages was not always regarded as a priority. Some years ago, when we were briefed to redesign a packaging, usually the objective was to reinforce the brand image, to adjust so to gain market share in a specific niche market, or to face a new competitor.

This situation started to change in the 1980’s, mainly in Europe, in more mature markets such as Germany, France and England. At that time, the governments used to be the rulers of the sustainability agenda, driven mainly by the problem of space for proper waste disposal. However, the agenda started gaining popularity with the help of fierce non-governmental organizations, and eventually, in the mid 1990’s, it became a consumer’s demand. Therefore, the market and brands started to devote more attention to sustainability. And packaging soon became the focus.

Nowadays, some consumers don’t buy products from brands whose packaging don’t show a clear concern for reducing environmental impact. Conveying this concern, is not an easy task. It is no longer enough for the product just to look sustainable. In other words, changing one or another material or carrying some seal alone is no longer convincing – and this is good news. Today, the concern must be global, encompassing all the stages of the product’s life cycle, and showed to the consumer in a transparent and factual manner.

That’s when the concept of design for environment (DfE) comes into play. The DfE is an approach that reassesses design so to reduce the environmental impact of products and services, making use of a methodology that calculates these impacts throughout the product’s life cycle. That is, the design aims to turn the product more sustainable from the extraction of the raw material needed to produce it to its disposal, going through production, distribution, sale and use. Because what’s the point of having a product that is recyclable but needs large amounts of water or energy to be produced? Or whose distribution leaves huge carbon footprints?

The challenge is to think holistically, paying attention to every step of the process. That’s what we, who work with packaging, do. It’s what more and more companies are committing to.

Braskem, for example, is already working with design for environment and promotes actions such as the Design Challenge, putting into practice and disseminating this understanding of the world. This year’s edition was organized in a hackathon format, grouping design and engineering students to redesign Colgate-Palmolive toothpaste and Kimberly-Clark toilet paper packaging.

The aim is to create solutions to reduce the environmental impact of those products, changing their packaging. As a mentor, I like to think that I don’t only guide the students along this path, but I also learn with them. It’s my commitment. And commitments like these, that involve increasingly more supply chain players, are the key for building a greener future. The future we want.

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