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Stepping Up To Environmentally Conscious Design

From the rise of recyclable packaging, to the increased awareness of carbon footprints and growing demand for sustainability within the design industry, the public are becoming increasingly aware of their consumer impact. Last year’s IPCC report on Climate Change encouraged an urgent, worldwide call to action and collective attitudes are finally making a big jump towards increased action and accountability in the name of our environment on every level.

As a result of this increase in awareness, consumers are shopping smarter, and more selectively. Global data experts Nielsen found that in a worldwide survey, 73% of respondents said that they would probably or definitely change their consumer habits to reduce their impact on the environment. Leaping from intention to action, industry giant Unilever discovered in an international study that a third of consumers are already choosing to buy from brands that they believe are doing social or environmental good. Unilever found on further examination that products within their own portfolio that were actively displaying sustainable intention outperformed their other offerings by a whopping 30%.

It is quite clear that a huge amount of opportunity exists for brands that are already voicing their sustainability credentials, so the question is, how do we tap into this vast potential? Most of us have heard of the classic sustainability triad before; the three R’s of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Let’s take a closer look at how these important goals can be successfully applied to design.

Making Those R’s More Accessible

In design terms, the concept “Reduce” can be applied by making a conscious choice to keep our production footprints small in terms of our material and manufacturing choices; taking care to factor transportation into this equation. “Reuse” can be applied by making better quality products that need to be replaced less often, or can be repurposed for multiple uses. “Recycle” can mean choosing to use repurposed materials in our products and packaging. Another term for this concept is “circular industry”, which means keeping materials in use by re-circulating them within the supply chain. A great example of this can be found in the projects of Searious Business, which, as you might have guessed from the name, aims to work with manufacturers to keep plastics out of our seas.

Reach Out To The Consumer

When it comes to making a difference, education is just as important as action. A huge aspect of consumer loyalty is brand trust and we can build that trust by openly sharing why we’ve chosen to use certain materials and methods. We can encourage our clients to see the value in helping consumers to make sustainable choices while increasing their reach, making buyers feel positive about their choices and the brands they are buying from. The most successful brands sell an idea as well as a solution, so with this in mind, it is important to consider what you as a business need to express to your target audience. Are your products upcycled, sustainably sourced, locally sourced or sea-life friendly? What are consumers contributing to when choosing your product? Sharing tips on how to live a sustainable lifestyle can form part of a great marketing strategy and helping consumers to make ethical choices in their daily habits is a great way to boost your green credentials and make a positive impact.

Assessing The Supply Chain

Sustainability can be a complicated concept to grapple with for consumers and designers alike, as there are so many factors to consider! For example; selecting a recycled, fair-trade material from India might sound like a great idea initially, but presents you with a whopping negative off-set once you consider the carbon footprint of transporting those materials from A to B for use. Make an honest, well researched assessment before choosing your materials and communicate the reasoning behind your conclusions, expressing what you stand for.

Planet Friendly Packaging

Last year brought us the viral phenomenon of “plastic attacks” around the world, a trend in which shopper’s unwrapped purchases in stores, leaving non-reusable packaging behind in order to protest public frustration at unnecessary and excessive packaging. Thanks to social media, ideas like this have spread faster than ever before and consumers have never been empowered in terms of the choices available to them. A great example of a designer’s response to this growing awareness includes innovative packaging solutions like Esther Li’s minimalist cardboard lightbulb packaging which offered a simple, yet elegant solution to packaging a fragile product in a sustainable way. Another fantastic example is Ecovative Design’s development of mycelium based alternatives to polystyrene packaging. They are literally growing biodegradable, non-toxic packaging, (think mushrooms) and huge companies like Ikea and Dell are already on board with their innovative products!

You might not wish to go as far as packaging with fungi, but taking responsibility to assess the minimum amount of material you could use to efficiently package a product is an important starting point nonetheless! Next point to consider is how recyclable the packaging materials will be. You might think glue-less packaging is a great option but with modern recyclable glues, would extra materials for folds and tabs eliminate the advantage? Seek out certified materials like FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified card and paper to guarantee a sustainable standard. Recycled card certainly looks the part, but it’s important to check whether it has been chemically bleached and to consider the impact of production when choosing any material.

Sometimes the most sustainable option is to opt for something simple and traditional, as demonstrated by Esther Li and her minimalist light bulb packaging. But there are so many new and exciting materials to explore too. Biopolymers, like this one produced by Spectra Packaging, are a great example. This is a product which looks and feels just like normal plastic, but is sustainable, renewable, and captures CO2 from the atmosphere during its production – helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions!

Demystifying Recycling

Most people can agree that recycling can be a bit of a head scratcher. At times it’s hard to know what can be successfully recycled, so as part of your branding, why not make a point of choosing materials that can be recycled and labelling them clearly. The Ellen McArthur Foundation reported at the end of 2017 that only 14% of plastic was collected for recycling and estimated that there would likely be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050 if recycling practices were not drastically improved. We can go a long way to reducing this risk by informing consumers about how to recycle packaging from their purchases, giving them the confidence to do the right thing, and confidence in the knowledge that their purchase was a planet friendly choice.

Ethical and Sustainable

The recent Iceland TV advert with the orangutan and palm oil promise, delivered a fantastic example that designers and brands can live by the mantra “Don’t just do good work, do good”. It also showed us the potential to achieve huge publicity and increase sales by doing so! Consumers are responding positively to honest, moral marketing and are increasingly keen to vote with their feet by actively investing in more ethical and sustainable choices.

About Luke

If I’m not making nice things for the print and digital worlds, I’m probably talking about dinosaurs.

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