Consumers are beginning to express their desire for more sustainable products. But by and large, those products are not making themselves easy to love. Lance Hosey, who keynoted at the recent Sustainable Brands conference, believes there’s still a fundamental disconnect between form and function in green product design. Simply put, products that are more sustainable tend to telegraph sensible, not sexy.
This attribute was personified by Seventh Generation, a company with an incredible line of products that suffered from generic "Brand X" packaging. With that in mind, I was excited to hear about the partnership Seventh Generation had struck with Ecologic Brands, a packaging company that balances low-impact materials with eye-popping design.
Milk pouch, meet iPhone
Julie Corbett, CEO of Ecologic Brands, grew up in Quebec, Canada. As it turns out, her background had a great deal to do with the inspiration behind her product.
For a start, her childhood home was deep in pulp and paper country. This imbued an appreciation of pulp’s sustainability and design potential. Fast forward a few years, when Corbett purchased her first iPhone and was struck by the high-tech, yet warmly familiar molded pulp packaging. It was, in her own words, "comfort food" for her senses.
Another inspiration was the humble milk pouch. Essentially a sealed plastic bag holding a liter of milk, this pouch was a staple of Quebec supermarkets in the 70’s. Drop one of the bags in a special re-usable jug, snip the top, and you had fresh milk with virtually no packaging.
Years later, Corbett tapped these influences to create her breakthrough packaging: a lightweight plastic bag surrounded by a protective molded pulp shell. She sensed her product would answer a nascent demand for eco-packaging that had shelf appeal. But first, it had to make it to market.
Insight + design = success
Corbett emphasizes the rigors her container needed to withstand in order to pass North American certification. “Our packaging had to hold up under extreme heat and cold, wilting humidity, drops and shakes, you name it."
The packaging held up well and was certified. But then came an equally daunting task: finding early champions to back the new idea. “The Straus Family Creamery in Northern California agreed to use our packaging for their nonfat milk so we could track market impact. Turns out nonfat milk in our bottle saw a 72 percent upswing in sales,” says Corbett.
Next page: How Seventh Generation found the pouch