05 Why designers hold the key to a sustainable future

By Tara Crean, Writer & Media Consultant

The walls are closing in on producers of throwaway plastic packaging. Those brands that generate tonnes and tonnes of nonrecyclable trash are under the spotlight like never before. And they’re getting it from all angles – the environment is never out of the headlines, consumer awareness is growing rapidly, and tougher government guidelines are being introduced all the time.

So what’s needed to help steer FMCG behemoths like Unilever, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo through the maelstrom? How can companies like these ensure that plastic packaging has the best possible opportunity to be reused or recycled? The answer lies in great, innovative design.

Strong design and inventive thinking can take brands to a place where they can reappraise their portfolios and meet sustainability goals, all while leveraging more customer engagement and making the consumer experience better than ever.

When design, structural innovation and sustainability combine seamlessly, there’s no reason why it can’t be good for business, consumers and the planet.

Design is a powerful accelerator when it comes to changing thinking. Take plastic water bottles. The Co-op has said that it is going to ditch clear plastic and switch all its water bottles to a part-recycled, cloudier-looking alternative, which could prevent 350 tonnes of waste a year. The bottles, which are 50% recycled and 100% recyclable, have a slightly grey hue. But with good design and clear supporting information, rather than seeming like a murky compromise, consumers can swig away knowing that they’re doing their bit for the planet. By taking manufacturers and consumers on the journey with them, designers have the power to shift the conversation and effect real change.

Reducing packaging waste, delivering greater efficiencies when it comes to distribution, all while elevating the consumer experience and keeping an eye on costs, are the very challenges that get designers’ pulses racing.

Look at PB Creative’s work for Unilever and AXE (LYNX in the UK). AXE wanted to elevate its gifting range at the same time as improving its sustainability credentials and simplifying packaging across the entire portfolio. Gift packs typically feature large plastic display windows and moulded inner trays. By eliminating all that and coming up with an ingenious new structure made with paper-based alternatives, PB was able to meet Unilever sustainability objectives.

There’s no quick-fix solution here but small changes, when delivered over millions of units, are not to be sniffed at.

This new eco landscape is fertile ground for creative thinking. It’s not overstating things to say that designers have the potential to make the world a better place.

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