Eco-friendly packaging, is that still a thing?

By now, we all know too well that our purchasing influence as consumers is the proof that we have the power to make companies change their products for what we want. While the pursuit of profit at any cost was cool in 1950, it's clear that our priorities have shifted. I think we can speak for everyone by saying that a future with a healthy planet and a strong community is what we want. Design plays a major role in changing the landscape of consumerism; both by rethinking design into eco-friendly solutions, but also by communicating to customers that brands can be agents of positive change. It is our responsibility as creators to implement sustainable practices in the consumerism industry. Here, we delve into strategies that can help achieve this goal.

Excessive packaging has become a significant part of how we shop these days. But let's rethink the idea that more packaging always means a better experience. Sometimes, all those layers of plastic and cardboard don't really add much. The real challenge is giving customers a great unboxing experience while minimizing design and focusing on sustainable practices.

"The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it." - Robert Swan


What is the foundation behind sustainable design?

Sustainable design is first a mindset. It starts with understanding the whole life cycle of our design, from inception to shipping and all the way to how they are being discarded and sent back into the cycle. When we can see the big picture and think about all the life that is impacted along the way, we can start to come up with innovative ideas to make this cycle as smooth and nature-oriented as possible.


How can sustainable design minimize packaging while maintaining aesthetic appeal and creativity?

Minimizing packaging and design is, of course, the number one solution to counter this problem, and with creativity, it can be turned into an advantage. For the sake of cutting out harmful products, painting, plating, and printing for aesthetic reasons can be cut out. A misconception of sustainable design is that it cuts down on aesthetic appeal. We are not saying that design shouldn’t be fun and attractive anymore, but rather that aesthetics can be achieved by focusing on shape, clever concepts, and more raw materials. There are techniques easy to leverage that are worth playing with for a luxurious feel like embossing, debossing, foil stamping, and so on. We all love an out-of-the-box design, and these restrictions can lead to that. Take examples from these designs.


Algae minimalistic packaging.

Container top turned into a spoon.

"Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity - not a threat." - Steve Jobs


How can we rethink materials?

For the materials that have been deemed essential, turning towards recycled materials, FSC-certified wood products, and using soy-based inks can make a huge difference when it comes to reducing the ecological footprint. There are thousands of solutions out there; plastic made of algae, toothbrushes made of bamboo, and so on. It is becoming increasingly easy to replace polluting materials and plastics with earth-based solutions.

100% plastic free oral care.

Mushroom packaging, alternative to polystyrene.

Packaging made of paper pulp. Image Source


How to take End-of-life in consideration for packaging?

There should be a focus on the end of life of the product. How will the object and its packaging be discarded? How will it reintegrate the cycle? Paradoxically, we’d say that there are two opposite ways to go here: either make the packaging quickly biodegradable and super short-lived (we love compostable seed-infused packaging that, once dissolved, contributes to the life cycle by giving back to nature) or make it long-lasting and capable of being turned into a second object (the classic example of the candle jar that can be used as a glass).


Candles that comes with a planting kit.

"The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it." - Robert Swan


Do you have to look green?

It's up to the brand to decide if sustainability is something they want to be associated with or not. It might not be the angle the brand wants to go for, and that is okay, but it doesn’t mean it cannot be ecologically conscious and adopt sustainable practices without saying anything. That said, for the brands that do want consumers to know about their efforts and make ecology one of their core values, design should indeed reflect it. We want to emphasize that green design doesn’t have to look green. Another misconception is that eco-responsible designs are all supposed to be brown and green with leaf designs, but that just isn’t true. Emphasizing the ecological side of a brand can be done by sponsoring ecological programs, collaborating with environmental organizations, or simply mentioning on the packaging that it is recyclable. Brands have a big role in shaping what people care about, and designers have the power to create a positive shift.


Is green washing a thing?

You can be a brand that apply green initiatives even if it isn’t part of the brand identity, a lot of brand’s have fallen into doing what is call green washing. Some businesses might just change their packaging or marketing to seem eco-friendly without really doing much for the environment. This can trick consumers who really want to support green companies. Fine, it might work for a while but the truth always comes out and in the long term, what are the real benefits of this behaviour?


To sum it up, going for sustainable graphic design isn't just about being eco-friendly. It's also about connecting with today's consumers who care about social and environmental issues and sticking to it, actions speak louder than words. When you choose sustainable design, you're not only helping the planet but also showing everyone that you're serious about making a positive impact, which can really boost how people see a brand.

Back to blog