by Marc Stoiber,
GLOBE-Net, June 27, 2012 - Consumers are
beginning to express their desire for more
sustainable products. But by and large, green 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.
So I was excited to hear about the partnership between Seventh
Generation and Ecologic Brands, a
packaging company that balances low-impact materials with
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 litre 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
In our conversation, Corbett emphasized the rigours 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 champions to back the innovative
"The Straus Family Creamery in Northern California agreed to use
our packaging for their non-fat milk so we could track market
impact. Turns out non-fat milk in our bottle saw a 72% upswing in
sales." says Corbett.
Based on these results, Packaging Digest Magazine did a story on
Ecologic. A story Peter Swaine of Seventh Generation saw.
Seventh Generation became Ecologic Brands' first major brand
customer, using the unique container for its 4x concentrated liquid
At this point, the power of the package design became obvious.
Grocery stores, notoriously difficult about new packaging, welcomed
the new container. In fact, new stores clamoured to get the
packaging on their shelves.
Corbett is especially proud that the new container helped expand
the previously limited Canadian market for Seventh Generation.
Today, the product is among the ten best-selling detergents in
the natural grocery channel, a statistic that can at least in part
be attributed to the shelf appeal of the packaging. Over a million
bottles have been produced.
As Corbett says, "Our bottle telegraphs reliable, trusted, and
'feel good' - not to mention subliminally alleviating consumer
guilt. It brings a smile."
In other words, it's a great example of intuitive and innovative
design drivingsustainability forward.
Lessons for Innovators
- Design is key - Sustainability and
packaging experts tend to push either utility or logistics. But
design appeal must be kept in central focus - it's what consumers
intuitively respond to.
- Take the consumer's perspective - When she was inspired to
create the Ecologic bottle, Corbett was thinking as a consumer, not
a manufacturer. Manufacturers innovate based on what their
equipment can do. Consumers innovate based on what they want. What
consumers want, is what sells.
- Hybridize - Innovation doesn't mean starting from scratch. Milk
pouches and iPhone trays are known entities. Sometimes success
simply means connecting the dots.