Designing a package to be sustainable and making one that consumers view as sustainable aren't necessarily the same.
Why we buy things and why we make things are often completely opposite, said Mark Dziersk, vice president of industrial design in Chicago for global brand design firm Brandimage-Desgrippes & Laga.
Ninety-five percent of what we work on [in design] is based on a rational process. But why consumers buy things is exactly the opposite with emotions often accounting for 95 percent of the decision. All that speaks to the importance of the front-end of the process, Dziersk said at the Sustainable Plastics Packaging 2010 conference in Atlanta.
Terry Swack, founder and CEO of Sustainable Minds LLC in Cambridge, Mass., agreed: The consumer only cares about how green their lifestyle becomes by using your product not what you are saving [environmentally] as a company.
That's why it is critical in the design stage to address consumer perceptions as well as environmental impact.
Sustainable packaging often involves trade-offs, said David Clark, sustainability director at Amcor Rigid Plastics in Ann Arbor, Mich. Don't focus on only one impact or benefit at a time. Look at your product's entire life cycle and delivery system.
Swack, whose firm sells software for comparing the impacts of different designs, said the secret to innovation that touches the entire life cycle of product and package is in the thought process and research stage.
You need to integrate environmental performance into the product development process and have data to support the tradeoffs you make on performance, cost, ergonomics, aesthetics, sustainability, she said.
Despite all the buzz about creating green products, green is only a relative term as all products use material and energy, she said. There is no such thing as a green product. It is all about being greener.
Sean Sabre, manager of global supply chain innovation for ModusLink Global Solutions Inc. in Waltham, Mass., said: When you design products in a system, you can do great things in sustainable packaging. [But] you have to understand the value your product and packaging bring to the consumer.
In reality, many environmental issues that companies emphasize minimal packaging that can be refilled or recycled, natural content, the use of sustainable materials, a sustainable product life cycle rank lower than comfort and convenience to the consumer, said Suzanne Shelton, president and CEO of Shelton Group Inc., a Knoxville, Tenn., ad agency that helps firms develop green marketing campaigns that motivate consumers to make sustainable choices.
An example: More than 21 percent of consumers surveyed by Shelton Group said they buy green personal-care products to reduce their family's exposure to toxins, compared to 9.7 percent who make that kind of purchase to preserve natural resources; 7.1 percent not to waste environmental resources; and 5.3 percent to reduce environmental emissions.
You have to dig into the claims you can make about a product on a category-by-category and brand-by-brand basis to see which one will have the most impact on the consumer, Shelton said. You have to appeal to both the heart and the head.
Consumers love biodegradable packaging, but if we don't check the comfort box on that product, it's not going to sell. The key emotional drivers are comfort, convenience, peace of mind, control, empowerment, fear of wasting and aesthetics, she said. You want to appeal to these deeper drivers.
Firms are optimistic the gap between perceptions about sustainable packaging and its reality will shrink in time.
I think the conversation will be much different in five years as people understand more about sustainability, said Patty Enneking, group director of global sustainability and environmental affairs at Klockner Pentaplast Group in Gordonsville, Va.