What can design do to solve the problem we presented in our previous post? A lot. Like we always say, design alone can just take small steps, we need companies (our clients) scientists and engineers (our colleagues) and specially consumers to make a real impactful change. Nevertheless, design has a strategic role which can show the way to the other actors in the scene.
Despite some theorists say that the three traditional eco-design strategies are an obsolete idea, the fact is that they are still a good starting point.
The first one is to reduce, with good design we can create packaging with the same functionality but using less material, while being equally or more attractive. Overpackaging is something that should make everyone angry and can even be considered unethical. To present something better in store is never a good enough reason to spend more material and resources than the strictly necessary. Companies should be creative, offering more and using less, and designers should tell them how to do it. Their economic results will appreciate it, and so will the environment and the client’s perception.
The second one is to reuse. With design, some single-use packaging can be substituted by a reusable one, reducing a lot the environmental impact that packaging provokes. A typical example are plastic bags at the grocery store. Do we really need to produce tonnes of virgin plastic bags that are only going to be used for 5 minutes, from the store to home? Of course not. Sadly, this can be applied to many other products and packagings, that can be replaced by reusable options in a very easy way. Why is it that the evolution of this industry has resulted in the substitution of things that were already working - like refillable glass bottles - by others that are objectively worse?
The third one is to recycle, which involves the consumer, who has the responsibility to separate waste at home and dispose of each item according to the information provided by their waste management organization. Nevertheless, it also involves companies and designers, because they must create packs that are easily recycled, with a minimal number of different materials and choosing those that allow a complete re-introduction in the chain.
These are the three main strategies that have always been at the center of sustainable design, and in some ways, these are overpowered by others that have a more systemic approach. A step forward is to design packaging with a circular design approach where it can be re-introduced in the chain again without losing any value.
There are dozens more ideas that can improve the environmental impact of packaging and have an influence at different stages of the life cycle. It’s the job of the sustainability expert to find the one that best fits the product, the brand and its target. In order to choose wisely, designer and client need to perfectly understand the life cycle and the characteristics of the product they are offering.
Sadly, no strategy is ever going to work if consumers do not change some of the factors that are nowadays key decision-making aspects when purchasing a product. Consumers tend to be lazy and want easy and cheap things, but we need to understand that to buy something is as act of responsibility, and that to choose well benefits us all. Let’s then be smart and make the right choice.