Packaging, Packaging case studies, Packaging expertise

Sustainable packaging design

25 Jul 2023 —
A customer taking delivery of a sustainably packaged product.

Well-designed packaging serves multiple purposes.

Well-designed packaging serves multiple purposes.

What is sustainable packaging design?

Well-designed packaging serves multiple purposes. It helps to protect products in transit and maximise their shelf-life, as well as providing important information to customers. It can also reinforce branding and make products more desirable. 

However, not all packaging is created equal. If companies don’t take care when designing and sourcing these solutions, they can be wasteful and environmentally damaging. This is of course bad news for the planet. And because of the increasing awareness of this issue among consumers, it can harm businesses' reputations too.
Sustainable packaging tackles this problem. It delivers all the benefits listed above while also being eco-responsible. In this post, we explore what makes packaging sustainable, why this concept is so important in the design process and how to make your packaging kind to the planet.

What is sustainable packaging?

Sustainable packaging is packaging that is made to be as eco-responsible as possible across its entire lifecycle. A big part of this is using the most responsibly sourced materials. It’s also about designing the most efficient packaging solutions you can, for example by minimising weight and size. 

Even the manufacturing process plays a role. Packaging should be produced using the most environmentally sound processes, driven by renewable energy where appropriate. Also, where possible, packaging should be designed for re-use or easy disassembly and recycling.  
The best examples of sustainable packaging show attention to detail in each of these key areas.

Why is sustainability important in design?

There are a number of key reasons for companies to factor sustainability into their packaging design. Firstly, doing so can help them to protect the planet. A careful approach to packaging is part of the move away from the culture of ‘take, make, use, throw’ to a circular economy in which resources are used responsibly and for as long as possible.

Secondly, regulations now incentivise businesses to take this issue seriously. For example, the Plastic Packaging Tax, which came into force in the UK in April 2022, was implemented to encourage businesses to use recycled materials in their plastic packaging. It applies to packaging produced in the UK, or imported into the country, that contains less than 30% recycled plastic. The current levy is £210.82 per tonne.

A third major reason to embrace sustainability in packaging design (as well as other business areas) is that doing so can help companies to maximise their appeal to customers. Consumers are increasingly voting with their wallets when it comes to this issue. Highlighting this fact, research carried out recently by the Chartered Institute of Marketing found that nearly a third of consumers are willing to spend more on products if they come in sustainable packaging. In addition, 35% say they judge businesses based on how ethical their packaging is.

So, companies that don’t prioritise sustainability in their product design are not only doing more harm to the planet, they are also putting their bottom lines at risk.

How to make packaging sustainable

There are clearly compelling reasons to ensure that the packaging your business uses is sustainable, but how can you go about achieving this? Here, we break down some of the key areas to focus on when making packaging eco-friendly.  

Design for maximum efficiency

Off-the-shelf packaging solutions certainly have their place, but if you are seeking innovative ways to boost your green credentials, it’s often best to go bespoke. Smart packaging design can dramatically cut the carbon footprint of your products in various ways. For example, by engineering packaging to eliminate any wasted space, you may be able to fit more products onto pallets for transportation. In turn, this can result in fewer pallet movements and lorry journeys, and therefore lower CO2 emissions and reduced pollution.

Packaging should also be designed with eventual recycling and disassembly in mind, ensuring that as much material as possible is reusable, and with minimum effort.

Select eco-responsible materials

Look for products that are made from recycled materials, or those that have a low carbon footprint to manufacture and are easy to recycle. You may also want to prioritise sustainable and organic raw materials.


What are the most sustainable packaging materials?

The most sustainable packaging materials differ depending on the nature of the product being packaged. One factor to consider is protection. The material used must offer sufficient protection for the goods inside. If it doesn’t, it could result in unnecessary product wastage, which is counterproductive from a sustainability perspective. For example, in some cases plastics can be the most sustainable option because they maximise the shelf-life of the products inside. In other cases, paper-based packaging materials may be a more eco-responsible choice.
Once you have decided which type of packaging material is best for your products, the key is to make sure you find a version of that material with impressive eco credentials. To make this easier for our customers, we have created our own Green Star System™. This system awards up to five stars to materials based on criteria including the weight of bio-based material they contain, the weight of recycled material they contain and their technical recyclability.

Carbon offset your packaging materials

When you have taken the steps outlined above to reduce the environmental impact of your packaging processes, a final measure you can adopt involves utilising schemes that allow you to offset the carbon footprint of the materials you use. Effectively, these schemes cancel out the carbon emissions generated by the manufacture and movement of the packaging you use. This may be by helping to fund the planting of new trees or protecting existing forests, for instance. You can find out about the carbon offsetting initiatives we offer on our website.   

If you need help choosing the most sustainable packaging for your products, our experts are available to offer information and advice. You can also use our sustainable packaging design service to create bespoke solutions with a focus on environmental protection, as well as product durability. In addition, you can take advantage of our greenCONSULT service, which sees our specialists review all aspects of your packaging process and suggest changes to make it more sustainable


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