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Anne Johnson

January 30, 2014

3 Min Read


Thought-provoking and comprehensive, the new "Design Guidelines for Sustainable Packaging" offers the first packaging-targeted tool created to stimulate innovation and provide direction to packaging designers and developers who are "interested in moving toward a fully sustainable future." The result of a collaboration between the staff of GreenBlue and members of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC)—with special acknowledgement given in the introduction to individuals from Target, Starbucks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Kraft Foods and others—the guidelines introduce four new quality criteria for package design to aid designers in creating packages that address sustainable objectives in every stage of the supply chain.

Laying the foundation in Part I, the guidelines provide definitions for "sustainable development" and "cradle-to-cradle design," and include SPC's vision for sustainable packaging design as articulated in its eight-part definition. These concepts, the guidelines relate, are system-wide models that, in packaging, encompass everything from the sourcing and converting of materials to their transport, use and disposal. Therefore, a tremendous opportunity exists for designers to "design-out" the potential negative environmental and societal impacts of packaging. "If we are to improve what we make, reduce our impacts and create a better world, we will need to rethink the way we design at every scale," the guidelines advise.

Hence, to the conventional design criteria of Technical Performance, Cost, Appearance and in some cases, Regulatory Compliance, the guidelines add four new quality considerations: Optimizing Resources, Responsible Sourcing, Material Health and Resource Recovery. Now, in addition to evaluating whether a package meets cost considerations, protects a product properly, communicates effectively and meets or exceeds local regulations, the guidelines challenge designers to assess a package with these sustainable objectives in mind.

Part IV, the heart of the guidelines, presents each of the four design criteria, along with strategies for achieving each of these objectives. For example, in order to Optimize Resources, the guidelines suggest that designers practice source reduction, use recycled content and design for transport. An explanation of each of these strategies, in turn, provides the designer with practical steps, poses questions, lists related regulations and standards and points to additional resources.

For instance, where source reduction is a strategy for Optimizing Resources, the guidelines advise asking the following questions: "Could minor changes be made to the product that would eliminate the need for packaging?" "Have all the unnecessary packaging components been eliminated?" "What level of protection does the product require?" The guidelines' steps to source reduction include specifying materials with lower-impact production processes; considering the minimal number of materials; and sourcing materials from suppliers who implement environmental best practices.


The "Design Guidelines for Sustainable Packaging" document was conceived as an online resource that can be readily updated and allows easy access to those portions that are of interest to an individual designer or developer. The document is available online through PD at a discounted price of $35. To purchase, go to www.packagingdigest.com/info/greendesign

Anne Johnson, this column's author, is the director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a project of GreenBlue (www.greenblue.org). For additional information, email [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Anne Johnson

Director, Sustainable Packaging Coalition

Anne Johnson is the director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, a project of GreenBlue (www.greenblue.org). For additional information, email [email protected].

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