Smart, Simple, and Sustainable - The Search for the Perfect Package

TRENTON, New Jersey , January 31, 2013 () – Whether you’re in an interview, at a meeting with a client, or even out on a date, you know that first impressions matter. Reputation is, by far, your business’s most valuable intangible asset; leaving a positive lasting impression depends on making a good one first. The same holds true for your products, which often rely on packaging to introduce themselves to consumers.

Exceptional product presentation is an essential strategy in green business, especially when it comes to gaining a competitive advantage. Companies can adopt sustainability initiatives to cut costs and publicize their efforts to strengthen brand equity. Personally, I have found that making a great first impression and edging out competitors comes down to three simple elements of sustainable package design: transparency, clarity, and accessibility.

Corporate transparency is integral to building credibility with consumers and other important stakeholders. By developing, implementing, and publicizing CSR initiatives, you present your business as a proactive and productive unit with the capacity for further growth. This can range from simple, familiar symbols (e.g. the chasing arrows that indicate recyclability) to more unique branding (e.g. the infinite loop that is the TerraCycle logo). Your product should announce itself as being sustainable and, of course, desirable immediately through the medium of package design.

Image Source (originally courtesy of Recycle Across America)

With extended producer responsibility, or EPR for short, gaining ground stateside, corporate transparency may not be enough to maintain stakeholder trust. Companies need to advertise their sustainability efforts with clarity in order to avoid confusing and possibly alienating consumers. A recent opinion piece in The New York Times attributed our country’s low recycling rates (about one third of municipal solid waste nationally) in part to consumer confusion over labels and advocated standardized recycling labels as one possible solution. Think about that from a business perspective. If your claims to sustainability are unclear, confusing, and/or lacking, they will produce the opposite of their intended effect: deterring consumers and undermining your credibility.

Instead of crowding your packaging design with a jumble of unclear assertions, settle for a few chosen goals, achievements, and/or partnerships that highlight your commitment to CSR initiatives. Take the recently implemented USDA Certified Biobased label, for example; only products that meet the USDA’s strict qualifications may use this label. Biobased products are defined as “commercial or industrial products, other than food or feed, that are composed in whole, or in signi¬ficant part, of biological products, renewable agricultural materials, including plant, animal and marine materials or forestry materials.” This level of selectivity, paired with the desirability of being “USDA certified,” establishes immediate credibility for products that bear this symbol. Convey your product’s quality and qualifications concisely and precisely to maintain stakeholder trust.

I believe that packaging should be appealing, accurate, and accessible – the latter both literally and figuratively. If consumers cannot easily access the product within the packaging, as is often the case with cumbersome, outmoded designs, then they will quickly grow frustrated and dissatisfied. Similarly, if your design is not readily accessible (i.e. approachable and intelligible), it won’t attract or maintain consumer interest.

Simplifying package design can directly benefit your business by reducing production costs and increasing branding opportunities. You can streamline clumsy designs by reducing materials, or you can promote closed-loop packaging by reusing recycled/recyclable materials like companies such as TerraCycle and Method home products.

There is a wealth of opportunities to profit from smart, sustainable package design. Just remember: transparency, clarity, and accessibility can help make sustainable business profitable!

Note: Tom Szaky (CEO of TerraCycle) will present a webinar on April 17, 2013 entitled: "Turning waste into Massive Equity". Free registration to this i2live webinar on

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