The entire concept of sustainability is rich and contains many ideas and facets. It is easily misunderstood. This blog post briefly explains more about it and contains criteria for judging if a product, company, or project is truly “sustainable”.
Sustainability lies in the interplay of environmental quality, economic vitality and social equity. It must meet all three criteria to be considered sustainable. (See Venn Diagram below.)
It is not an environmental movement, it is a better business model, which makes more profits than you may suspect.*(See notes at bottom.)
It is just as much about sustaining your business and the society that supports it, as it is about sustaining the environment.
Sustainable design considers the whole life of a product, from the raw materials used, their transport and processing, all the way through to the end of the product's useful life and where the materials end up after that. It also considers the energyand water used in each and every step of the product.
Sustainable development can be defined as: “a dynamic process which enables all people to realize their potential and to improve their quality of life in ways which simultaneously protect and enhance the Earth’s life support systems.” (Forum for the Future).
Sustainability can also be described as 'securing quality of life within the limits of nature' (Mathis Wackernagel).
For anyone who may still be thinking this whole sustainability thing is just a fad, here is a LINK to a Google Image search for the phrase “Sustainable Packaging Design”. Just look at the fascinating range of innovation taking place:
An alternative to PET bottles, made from recycled paper (above and below).
Alternatives to PET plastics, that are made from corn starch and are biodegradable.
Juice smoothie boxes that evaporate after use (above).
This packaging (above) alone reduces uneasy feelings about keeping detergents in the home, and the guilt of yet another plastic bottle that will be in the environment for decades.
Milk that says "Bio" even before you read the label.
Packaging that has a second use (or a third or a fourth, the more uses, the more circular and sustainable the materials).
This (above) is an idea that we have seen in several designs recently. Cartons that contain seeds and are biodegradable so that you can stick them in the ground and they grow flowers (see Two Brother's Honey)
These two show it doesn't have to be all natural brown recycled paper.
These proposed Coca-Cola company designs save space in shipping--and on shelves--and therefore require fewer trucks, and lower the carbon footprint of the company.
Packaging that has other functions and post-packaging uses. Reused and recycled cardboard replaces Styrofoam in packaging for things as small as head phones (above) to much larger items.
Also, look at Amazon.com and see the number books about sustainable packaging design.
P.S. You know what is so great about working in packaging design right now--other than that it is an incredibly dynamic and innovative field--is the amount of imagination we are exposed to. Seeing that these things aren't just someone's idea of some hazy distant future, but real things that exist and are now in use (granted in limited areas, but they are a proof of concept) is exciting. Imagine: the subtle guilt that many people feel when using plastic bags, bottles and one-use items is something that a lot of people feel daily. But when they don't have options here is no choice but to try to ignore the feeling of helplessness. But these new things mean that lack of empowerment, lack of a choice, is becoming a thing of the past. Options are appearing. Things are changing. There is hope for a healthier world. Customer centricity about more than a customer's wants, it is about their needs. Plus, these things make a profit. And anything that makes a profit, is something even the most cynical people can believe in. Empower a customer, and they are a customer for life.
*Notes, these have some evidence for the above claims:
The Investment Logic for Sustainability
Let's Go All In on Sustainability
The Business Logic of Sustainability