It’s easy for design to be considered as pure aesthetics. We choose things based on what we like but also based on what a product looks and feels like. But like anything meaningful, products cannot survive on looks alone. We’re collectively expecting more from our products – we don’t just want them to function well or look nice, we’re calling for sustainability to be integrated into the designs we invest in. So often we depend on being reactive; looking at how to mitigate a problem rather than prevent it. Don’t get us wrong – the fact that we’re much more conscious of recycling plastic is a positive shift, but what would happen if we didn’t need to use petroleum-based materials that are harmful for the planet – both in their production and in their inability to break down and persist in the environment – in the first place? Instead we believe in being more proactive; looking at the impact of a product before it’s been made. Designers are the first port of call. We’re essential to making necessary changes from the very beginning. We must design accordingly.
What Is Eco-Design?
Eco-design refers to the integration of sustainably-minded principles into the product development process. It goes beyond just materiality or recyclability but looks at how products can be designed in a more efficient way, the environmental impact of production and also takes into consideration the end of life of a product within design. The aim of ecodesign is to ensure that products being made make the “lowest possible environmental impact through the product life cycle.”
We’ve always designed through the lens of eco-design principles, but with our own twist. For us, eco-design means collaborating with nature – looking at how things are grown and degrade in the natural world and finding ways to mimic that through material innovation. Biology underpins everything that we do, from the microbes that kick off our process to how our product breaks down in natural environments. Our design framework is really rooted in this; we believe design should reveal and not conceal. There should always be a certain integrity to be held, so we design to help uncover concepts or outcomes rather than designing to bypass them.
We follow a First Principles approach to design. That means stripping everything back and challenging past assumptions that might get in the way of solving new problems, different industries or a wider demographic. We do this by not assuming that what has been done is necessarily correct; we design according to future impact. Many years ago, the advent of plastic was revolutionary and inspired a new school of design. Now, we’re feeling the impact of these design choices. We cannot assume that past solutions are the only answer.
Why Does Packaging Need This?
40% of all plastic produced is used in packaging. A huge proportion of these single-use plastics are used to package food and drinks, but there’s an increasing problem around plastic packaging in the beauty industry, especially as the consumer demand for skincare grows.
There are a few problems here: some packaging forms can’t be recycled because of decorative designs that use unrecyclable materials. There’s also an issue with size. Products need to be a certain size to make sure they are processed, and often the smaller components that might technically be made from a recyclable material (think pump lids and caps) still will end up in landfill because they fall through the grates in recycling facilities. Decoration is another factor that affects recyclability in packaging. Plastic stickers or decorative logos that are made from certain materials might not be compatible for recycling.
SPHERE: The Packaging Sustainability Framework
Last year, this framework was created by the World Business Council For Sustainable Development to help brands and businesses who design and make packaging adhere to core environmental principles from conception to manufacturing. The SPHERE approaches sustainable packaging through the lens of many different aspects, including biodiversity loss, food security, resource depletion, eco toxicity, water scarcity, global health, in addition to climate change.
These are the six sustainability principles the framework outlines that contribute to an eco design approach to product design:
- Minimise the drivers of climate change, relating to the importance of minimising the climate impacts of packaging;
- Optimise efficiency considering product protection (meaning avoiding product damage, losses and waste);
- Optimise circularity addressing the need to promote the use of recycled content and renewable content;
- Optimise end of life designs for recyclability, taking into consideration effective end-of-life management schemes;
- Avoid harmful substances limits present and future human health impacts due to leakage, ingestion and bioaccumulation;
- Minimise the drivers of biodiversity loss which currently accounts for water and land use; in the future, it can address measurements related to biodiversity impacts due to leakage.
How Can Eco-Design Principles Be Integrated In Products?
The overall mission of eco-design is to design products that minimise impact. To do this, we begin with conscious material selection. For us, this means a biomaterial that contains no petroleum (a fossil fuel which contributes to polluting emissions like carbon dioxide, a dangerous greenhouse gas). We’ve spent years cultivating and refining our biobased material, Vivomer, which is made with the same microbes you’d find in marine and soil environments.
We also consider the impact of over-packaging by minimising the amount of components in our products. In our current catalogue, we’ve designed only essential elements and these are always made from the same material – which means the whole product can be composted or in the future recycled. Traditionally when brands package their formulations, there will be a recyclable element, like a plastic or glass body, but often gaskets found inside lids (that help them function) will be made from a different material that is often too small to be processed in recycling facilities. Tackling the problem of over-packaging also relates to resource efficiency, which is key to eco design. We make sure we’re designing our products with thinner walls, only using what is necessary.
We also wanted to address the assumption that weight inherently signalled a luxury product; we’ve designed our products to be beautiful, aesthetic and luxurious without carrying that added weight. This makes an impact by creating better packing density in shipping; lightweight design reduces carbon emissions in transportations but doesn’t compromise on the user experience. For us – and now many customers who are starting to expect sustainability in their purchases – luxury looks like designing with environmental credentials. Providing an elevated product by emphasising the design aspect is crucial for bridging the gap between sustainability and luxury.
Eco-friendly decoration options are also key to eco design. Using laser engraving enables us to take away material rather than add it on, and we also use natural pigments to personalise palettes as opposed to artificial dyes which are laced with chemicals.
Designing For A Product’s End-Of-Life
Designing for the end of life of a product is one of the most significant aspects of eco-design for us. Our material is home compostable, so we’re thinking about how disposing of our products can actually be regenerative, as opposed to just recycled or reused. We’ve specifically designed our material, and in turn our products, to be low impact. We like to think of our product’s useful life stretching beyond its function as a vessel, into its eventual end-of-life pathways, where it can biodegrade into natural environments and leave zero microplastics or any harm.
Ultimately we see this as the only way to work towards a more sustainable future. Through using eco-design principles – considering every aspect and the potential impact from the very beginning – we’re helping to redefine luxury. Throwing out assumptions that sustainability cannot be luxe by designing beautiful and proudly impermanent packaging. Packaging that doesn’t persist in the planet and is actually regenerative.
Plastic Oceans. (2021, July 21). Plastic Pollution Facts. Plastic Oceans International. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from https://plasticoceans.org/the-facts/
World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). (2022, April 13). Sphere: The Packaging Sustainability Framework. World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). https://www.wbcsd.org/Programs/Circular-Economy/Sustainable-Plastics-and-Packaging-Value-Chains/Circular-Sustainability-Assessment-for-Packaging/Resources/SPHERE-the-packaging-sustainability-framework