Feature Design Sustainable Package
[ 2009.12.10 up ]

New traditions that benefit consumers and the environment

Avoid virgin materials whenever possible, and make sure packaging is easy to recycle. Packaging policies such as these have been a facet of environmental initiatives at Sony for some time. With the consumer perspective firmly in mind, designers committed to sustainable packaging are now expanding these activities. How can packaging be easier to manage after use? How can unboxing a new Sony product excite and satisfy people more than ever? Here, contributors take the lid off some of these efforts.

Yoshie Nagasaka
Yoshie Nagasaka
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Senior Producer
Masayuki Hata
Masayuki Hata
Sony Creativeworks
Producer and Senior Designer
Takeshi Ichimura
Takeshi Ichimura
Sony Creativeworks
Designer
Saki Kanada
Saki Kanada
Sony Creativeworks
Designer

Taking a hard look at disposal

Nagasaka: What can we do for people and society through design? For the environment? Environmental considerations and principles of universal design guide us in development at Sony, and we hope our work makes a positive impact and raises awareness inside and outside the company. In these activities, one thing we focus on is sustainable packaging design.

Packaging is a direct, initial point of contact with people after their purchase. At this stage manufacturers' intentions and messages must be very clear to consumers. Yet people only interact with packaging briefly, and it's generally discarded immediately after removing products. This act of disposal is something we have studied. Inevitably, disposal may be a little inconvenient, but in areas with sorting regulations, it's a source of materials for recycling. That's why we approached user-friendly, eco-friendly packaging from the stage of disposal. And certainly, the packaging solutions we adopt are a reflection of Sony's commitment to CSR. These considerations motivated us to propose sustainable packaging guidelines some time ago.

Worth designing well: new ties with consumers

Nagasaka: We began by verifying packaging life cycles, including how packaging is used and disposed of after purchases. Research in Japan confirmed that people more often keep the easy-to-manage packaging for portable audio players, cameras, and similar products. This also applies to products with several included accessories. But what surprised us was how people tend to dispose of computer packaging immediately. We thought the boxes would generally be retained in case people sell the computer later or need repair. In fact, more people than we expected get rid of them immediately.

Optimal design development accounting for packaging life cycles is critical. Most packaging is designed to look attractive in stores, for example. But in reality, our customers' involvement with packaging continues until it leaves their hands. For this reason, packaging that's easy to sort and helps our customers identify what to recycle is better for them and the environment. That's good design. Conventional packaging has often failed to meet these criteria, but we consider this an opportunity to design new relationships with our customers, so to speak.

We can summarize goals in packaging design by four keywords. The first is materials. We avoid using plastics and other materials derived from petrochemicals as much as possible, and we incorporate recycled materials. It's a matter of reduce, reuse, recycle, and replace. Next comes usability. Packaging must be easy to open, for one thing. To encourage sorting, it must also be easy to take apart. Toward the end of providing useful information, boxes must be appropriately labeled. And finally, we seek a positive out-of-box experience (OOBE). In other words, when you unpack a Sony product, you should get the impression that both you and the environment matter to us.

Hata: After substantial research and discussion, it was time to start designing with our guidelines in mind. I was in charge of VAIO notebook packaging. In view of our findings—that most people usually recycle these boxes immediately—we wanted packaging that left the product easily accessible and could be recycled right away. Additionally, I suggested that we make the boxes flatter. This is doubly useful, because it's convenient when bringing your new notebook home and it emphasizes the sleek body of VAIO notebooks. Most importantly, we can load more notebooks on a delivery truck at one time, which lowers costs and CO2 emissions in distribution. What would be the best box design and structure, toward this end? My work involved cutting corrugated cardboard and folding it, in a series of attempts to find out.

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