PAGE Online: Guiding the transition
Designers can advise companies on sustainability – and accelerate the transition to real understanding.
When it comes to the topic of sustainability, there is a great deal of consensus. Consumers and entrepreneurs alike find sustainability important and desirable. At the same time, however, we are all producing more and more packaging waste per capita. So there is a contradiction between our own professed beliefs and our day-to-day reality. Sustainable solutions often work well on a small scale. For example, both Halo's coffee capsules and Superseven's printed, transparent film wrappers can be easily composted after use. So what accounts for the failure of attempts to transfer this success from start-ups to the offerings of the market leaders, in order to save resources on a larger scale?
According to the brand and design agency Peter Schmidt Group, there are two answers to this question. On the one hand, established companies would have to change their existing production and delivery processes. This would require massive investments, which many decision-makers shy away from. And on the other hand, many innovative and sustainable materials are still too expensive – even a few extra cents cut into the profit margins that companies have optimized over decades.
Designers must therefore not only provide creative ideas, but also answers to producers' cost questions. The new Packaging Act is your "partner in crime" here. It stipulates that anyone who places packaging on the market must register it and pay a fee that varies according to the quantity and type of packaging. Ecologically disadvantageous packaging is more expensive than environmentally friendly packaging. Thus the price advantage of the tried-and-tested should disappear, and healthy pressure for innovation should arise.
Alternative raw materials penetrate the market
This is not the only reason why paper is being used in new ways as an alternative to plastic packaging. L'Oreal is currently testing the use of paper tubes in the cosmetics sector; a joint venture between the manufacturers Alpla and BillerudKorsnäs is developing a bio-based, fully recyclable paper bottle. And paper made from such fast-growing raw materials as grass and pineapple fibers, as well as plastics recycled from the plastic waste littering the world's oceans, are also becoming increasingly relevant.
In many cases, packaging can be made more sustainable without the need to turn to innovative materials. IKEA, for example, sells its light bulbs in a protective cardboard box with a viewing window whose transparent film is no longer glued but folded in. This makes it easy to separate the film from the cardboard and feed them into the recycling cycle. "This example shows the contribution that packaging designers can make," says Florian Schaake, design director at Peter Schmidt Group and a dedicated proponent of improved sustainability. "Because we are aware of material costs, it is our task to optimize the use of resources. “
However, the topic of sustainability is not limited to packaging. Corporate designers also have a role to play. They interact with clients who often have their own sustainability departments. They can use their clout to drive innovation faster and more easily than a design agency alone can. And of course, corporate identities can also be sustainable. The potential for improving sustainability includes using more environmentally friends inks, eliminating chemically bleached paper, taking product life cycles into account and upcycling old elements, to name just a few factors.
Creative projects as accelerators of rethinking
The best and most honest results do not result from abstract corporate goals, but from inner conviction. So there is a need for a rethink that can be accelerated by the emotional power of self-developed prototypes. An example of this is the Grace of Waste project, which won silver in the "Sustainable Design" category at ADC Germany. Peter Schmidt Group took the initiative and used coffee grounds that would otherwise have been discarded to make soap that cleanses gently and thoroughly. The packaging is made from old coffee cups, and even the typography design requires less printing ink. Grace of Waste has inspired customers to think about the waste generated in their own production process and their own ecological footprint.
The article by Florian Schaake has been published in PAGE Online. You can find the german version here.