sustainable printPackaging design and brand sustainability consultant Tracy Sutton sets out the roots of stunning sustainable ‘eco’ design.

When many people think about sustainable print or packaging design they envisage a cream or brown material with visible recycled fibres. If you pop ‘sustainable packaging’ or ‘sustainable print’ into Google images you’ll see what I mean. Not particularly attractive is it?

I’m going to unravel three common myths around sustainable design. These valuable nuggets of inspiration below will help you on your journey to realise desirable print and packaging that has a lower impact on the environment.

Myth 1 – Sustainable packaging needs to look natural

Not true. Consumers in reality often associate something that’s ‘eco’ with a compromise and that’s not the message you want to communicate – especially if you’re a luxury brand. Brands like Stella McCartney and Method both harness powerful aesthetics and confident colours across their brand. This approach works really well to strengthen the message that brands can act responsibly and look and feel beautiful.

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On my own business cards for Root I wanted to shake off the old stuffy brown kraft aesthetic and ensure that desirability came first. I chose four wonderful materials from a selection of Antalis papers, each of the materials had a unique texture or emboss I wanted to celebrate and they also held impressive environmental credentials that include UK manufacture, inclusion of by products and FSC accreditation.

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Myth 2 – Sustainable design is expensive

Using less, costs less! It’s a myth that sustainable design is costs more. If you follow clichés and overcomplicate the material and decoration specification it can cost a lot of money.

I create a lot of design strategies for brands that help them to realise their brand values through effective selection of packaging format, material and decoration. I help them to understand the best design approach and define how and where the budget should be spent. By understanding what a client or designer wants to achieve, I can outline the most innovative, low impact, cost effective method for them to realise their concept.

When it comes to your next design brief, before you roll your sleeves up and get stuck in, consider some of these wonderfully effective design and decoration techniques:

– die cuts and perforations
– naturally vivid materials
– materials with organic textures

Myth 3 – Sustainable materials need to be recycled

Not true. Many people think sustainable print and packaging means that it should be recycled. Recycling is good to manage resources, but it simply moves material around using a lot of energy. Sometimes you need to increase a material thickness because recycled fibres are thicker, therefore you may negate any benefit you set out to have. Creating less in the first place is the best place to start.

Figures from RSA highlight that 80 per cent of a product’s environmental impact is set out at the design stage. So take a step back the next time you have a design brief and consider using less before you pick up those swatch books. Take a step back from recycling and resist the temptation to focus on end of life. It will bring much more exciting creative, brand and environmental opportunities.

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Work I did for ethical jewellery brand Mosami focused on a low unit price and a premium aesthetic. Using FSC materials packaging was designed to ship flat, use less secondary packaging and less energy. It cost much less than a typical rigid box and enabled the client to get her brand off the ground in a cost effective way.

Sustainable design is simple, smart and slim. It’s about educating, enticing and engaging. It’s so much more exciting and effective than simply focusing on recycling and waste.

About the author: Tracy Sutton is a packaging design and brand sustainability consultant dedicated packaging design with over 15 years experience working in the packaging manufacture and creative industries.

Tracy founded Root to help thoughtful brands take advantage of the proven business benefits of sustainable design thinking.