Packaging Design For Sustainability

This website is the product of a collaborative effort between several organizations engaged with the packaging industry. Initiated in 2012 by industry partners to the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, this effort to create industry- focused guidance for creating more sustainable packaging was undertaken as a project of PAC NEXT and chaired by representatives from Éco Entreprises Québec and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.

Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ) is a private, non-profit organization created by companies that put containers, packaging and printed matter (CP&PM) on Quebec’s market. ÉEQ was certified by RECYC-QUÉBEC to establish a fee structure and collect contributions from companies in order to pay 100% of the net costs of municipal curbside recycling. In addition to that primary function, ÉEQ is involved in a number of initiatives to optimize the curbside recycling value chain, particularly with regard to reducing at the source the quantities of CP&PM generated and increasing their recyclability, enhancing curbside recycling and reducing its costs, as well as increasing not only the quantities of residual materials that are recycled, but also their economic value.

The Sustainable Packaging Coalition® (SPC) is an industry working group dedicated to a more robust environmental vision for packaging. Through strong member support, an informed and science-based approach, supply chain collaborations and continuous outreach, we endeavor to build packaging systems that encourage economic prosperity and a sustainable flow of materials.

The SPC is a project of GreenBlue®, a nonprofit that equips business with the science and resources to make products more sustainable.

PACNEXT works to proactively help the industry transition towards a world without packaging waste, with a mission to unite leading organizations across the packaging value chain to collaboratively explore, evaluate and mobilize packaging end-of-life solutions.

PACNEXT was created by PAC – The Packaging Association.

The business case for designing more sustainable packaging

The establishment of an ecodesign approach depends on the level of a company’s expertise in sustainable development. The integration of environmental criteria requires the acquisition of new knowledge. Several reasons may motivate the adoption of a packaging optimization approach. Here are some examples:

  • Integration of environmental criteria in the packaging design process(transformation of attitudes and practices).
  • Gaining expertise in understanding measurements of environmental criteriaand other performance criteria.
  • Developing a medium and long term vision.
  • Meeting requests from consumers and business partners.
  • Reducing and controlling costs and investments.
  • Proactively exceeding requirements for regulatory compliance.

Ecodesign is by nature complex, interdisciplinary, and transversal. It is a holistic approach aimed at reducing environmental impacts throughout the life cycle of a product while maintaining its quality of functions and performance. To assess the scope of an ecodesign approach, the idea of eco-efficiency is commonly used. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development states:

“Eco-efficiency is achieved by the delivery of competitively-priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life, while progressively reducing ecological impacts and resource intensity throughout the life-cycle to a level at least in line with the earth’s estimated carrying capacity. In short, it is concerned with creating more value with less impact. It is measured by:

Cost-effectiveness and environmental sustainability are two sides of the same coin. INCPEN; 2012

There is no single packaging idea that fits the diversity of context and consumer’s needs. Packaging design decisions are influenced by the industry sector characteristics, the size of the company, the core business, etc.

This work targets the design team, including buyers, R&D experts, and marketing professionals, and it is intended to bring together the diverse decision-makers in a unified approach to designing more sustainable packaging.

A brief history of designing for sustainability

That which we throw away, we fail to value. When we design and plan things to be discarded, we exercise insufficient care in designing or considering safety factors.

Designing for waste reduction

Recognition of environmental crises is a compounded result between the emotional response of civil society against the succession of technological accidents and technical highlights in the 20th century combined with the recognition of human activity as the cause for the environmental crisis.

During the 1960s and 1970s, landfills became problematic in some countries, particularly Europe, because of the lack of remaining capacity. This situation led to awareness of end-of-life considerations for packaging and products. For some designers such as Victor Papanek, we were living what he called: The Kleenex culture, where we produce, we consume, and we throw.

Design for recovery strategies were developed for designers to identify design criteria that enhance the product or packaging’s chances of staying out of a landfill. Different policies and programs emerges like ISO, environmental labeling, and the Mobius loop (1970). Design for recovery is now based on the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Designing for energy usage

The energy crisis in the early 1970s brought a realization that human activities consume a lot of energy. Energy is crucial at every step of the life cycle of products: from raw materials to transportation, through end-of-life management.

The idea of energy efficiency was introduced with the goal of reducing energy consumption throughout life cycles. Included in this effort was the Energy Star program developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy. In Europe, efforts were made to understand and enhance the energy efficiency of electronic devices and appliances.

Multi-criteria approach

The first multi-criteria analyses were performed in the US in the 1970s, with the objective of merging the evaluation of materials and energy and drawing a more complete picture of the environmental performance of a product.

During the 1980s, the multi-criteria approach gained credibility and the designation changed to life cycle assessment. Timeframes, areas of effect, and human health considerations were incorporated into decision-making.

Design today

“Design for Environment” (DfE) is a designation that aims to bridge the gap between two traditionally distinct functions: product development and environmental management. The goal of DfE is to link product and packaging innovations directly to sustainability considerations and unify a goal of continuous improvement. Sustainability is the philosophy that seeks to balance the viability of a project by managing environmental concerns with respect to human rights. To embrace economic and social aspects, DfE evolved to “Design for Sustainability”.