Can sustainable packaging design be stylish & affordable?

by Jason Forbes. Packaging must stand out on the shelf and draw customers in, and it must also be reusable or recyclable.

by Jason Forbes. One of the strongest trends in the packaging industry revolves around the circular economy. In the competitive world of retail, not only must packaging stand out on the shelf and draw customers in, but it must also be reusable or recyclable. Global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution, are forcing the industry to relook at its approach.

Packaging has evolved in the last few decades. Food, beverages, and other consumer goods were largely sold in nameless glass jugs, wood crates, steel cans and cloth bags. And it wasn’t until the 20th Century that packaging materials and packaging design merged to become one. In many cases, the substrate began driving design. Many factors make package design memorable, but the driving force in brand identity is colour. It sets the tone and personality and can evoke different emotions and feelings in people. Used in marketing, the relationship people have with certain colours can make a product more appealing.

For packaging to be eco-friendly, it’s not only the substrate that must be considered, but also the materials used in the design process. Post-consumer packaging today is likely to end up in one of three places: a recycling program, a landfill or (worst case scenario) in the environment, perhaps floating in the ocean. So, it’s essential that designers start the design process with the end in mind.

The tendency is for marketers to think that when materials and colour is limited, it limits the branding potential. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Technological advances have made eco-friendly materials and inks far more accessible and just as eye-catching. Soy and water-based inks allow for a wide variety of colours and shades which is far better alternative to conventional inks (derived from petroleum-based products, water, resins, pigments, and a wide variety of metals).

Changing how we approach packaging design can be cost-effective and should not compromise on design, quality, or functionality. They can work wonderfully together both aesthetically and for the environment. But according to McKinsey, few companies examine the cost of trade-offs implicit in their packaging decisions. Such decisions tend to be the domain of marketers since packaging is a key element of communicating a company’s brand to consumers. However, there are organisations that are reaping considerable savings. One consumer goods maker reduced its packaging costs for a key product by 10%, by making straightforward design changes that allowed it to use less plastic in manufacturing the product’s bottle.

Case study: Provita

Provita, one of our clients, has made the move to a more sustainable packaging option. For their new look, we utilised WestRock KraftPak, which sets the standard for unbleached, uncoated virgin paperboard. It is a low density, high-yield product, which provides outstanding strength and durability while using less fibre. Kraft paper is manufactured from virgin wood pulp, making it completely organic, biodegradable, and compostable. Within a few weeks, kraft paper breaks down into cellulose fibres, exactly like tree leaves, having no negative impact on the environment.

Considering the nature of the board and how inks are absorbed into the uncoated stock, we had to design with this in mind; and worked closely with the printers, utilising innovative printing techniques. Not only did we meet the demands of the consumer and increase positive sentiment of the brand; but we were able to produce packaging that is environmentally friendly without affecting the sale price.

Case study: Environ

Another client of ours, Environ, has also become increasingly conscious of this trend. In their recently launched Festive Packaging Campaign, they decided to move away from using foil lined board – which contains a plastic lining – to a virgin white board, which is not only cheaper but is also 100% recyclable and is FSC (The Forest Stewardship Council) certified, meaning it contains forest-based materials from FSC-certified forests or reclaimed sources. To achieve the ‘festive bling’, we opted for a cold foiling process over the more common hot foiling. Cold foiling is 100% recyclable and again offers massive cost savings.

By making small changes, we’ve found that it is possible to positively impact the environment and still achieve impressive looking packaging that appeals to consumers. It’s innovative thinking like this that will see more brands opting for sustainable packaging – it’s only a matter of time.


Main image credit: GBR.



Jason Forbes is founder of The Graphic Ballroom (GBR).


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Wednesday • Subscribe here.