How to Approach Eco Design Optimisation 

ECO DESIGN OPTIMISATION IS JUST ONE ELEMENT IN THE COMPLEX PACKAGING DESIGN PROJECTS

Based on the understanding of Eco Design as a further key requirement of equal importance, developing and implementing of an Eco Design strategy must become an integral part of the entire management of packaging design and the relevant decision-making processes in the company. Senior management decisions must form the foundation for this integrated implementation of Eco Design.

When packaging projects are implemented in practice, however, environmental optimisation has to be undertaken in parallel with many other optimisation efforts made in other requirement areas. This means that repeated reviews of potential environmental improvements are normally necessary since the initial versions of the packaging change during the course of the project due to optimisation work carried out in other requirement areas.

The following diagram shows the parallel nature of the various optimisation processes.

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INTEGRATION OF ECO DESIGN PROCEDURES INTO THE MANAGEMENT PROCESS

The integration of Eco Design in the management process of a specific packaging project then involves the following five steps as a minimum.

The steps performed and decisions taken for each Eco Design project must be documented systematically to support the continuous improvement of internal procedures as well as transparent and reliable communication with customers.

The integration of Eco Design in the management process of a specific packaging project then involves the following five steps as a minimum. 

The steps performed and decisions taken for each Eco Design project must be documented systematically to support the continuous improvement of internal procedures as well as transparent and reliable communication with customers. 

As a first step, it is crucial for an Eco Design packaging project to define what actual environmental impacts (climate change, loss of biodiversity or littering) are to be addressed during the project. In addition, priorities between these different environmental goals are to be set, with the environmental policy of the company and any possible environmentally relevant brand messages of the contents also being taken into account.

This step should be taken at a very early stage, i.e. in the strategy phase of the project.

In order to put the environmental goals defined and prioritised in the first step into practice, suitable Eco Design strategy elements should be selected as proposed in these Guidelines, for example.

The specifications for the packaging project should be evaluated in order to set ambitious but also achievable targets for the various environmental goals for the Eco Design process.

The selected strategy elements and the measurable objectives form the core of the project’s Eco Design strategy and are therefore part of the briefing for creative brainstorming, e.g. in the ideation phase of the packaging project.

In step 3, the selected Eco Design strategy elements are applied to the packaging alternatives resulting from the ideation process. For each selected Eco Design strategy element, the proposed optimisation approaches must be verified and if necessary applied step by step. A check should first be made in each case as to whether optimisation can be implemented at the system level before focusing on improvements to the packaging. The relevant checklists in these Guidelines support this structured process of improvement.

Any conflicts that arise among different optimisation options need to be flagged for the following decision steps.

After completing verification and optimisation of the Eco Design (see step 3), the resulting packaging variants need to be assessed regarding their environmental impacts and the outcomes evaluated against the defined objectives (see step 2).

Relevant evaluation tools can be used for some of these reviews. A selection of these tools can be found online in the toolbox for these Guidelines. Depending on the scope and importance of the relevant project, (just) a qualitative assessment can sometimes also be sufficient here.

If none of the verified packaging solutions meets the defined environmental targets, it is necessary to go back to step 2 and check whether the other key requirements can be modified. If this is not feasible, the environmental objectives need to be redefined.

Any conflicting objectives identified must be made transparent and resolved based on environmental priorities.

Responsible communication should be clear, balanced and evidence-based. Consequently, along with other brand messages, only significant environmental improvements should be communicated. Here, established standards for environmental communication should be observed. Any environmental burdens shifted to other areas of activity or stages of the life cycle must be made transparent.

Structured documentation of the optimisation steps taken makes it possible to provide substantive answers to questions from consumers or other interest groups. This documentation should include all decisions taken and results achieved as well as obstacles identified with regard to even more extensive optimisation.

The following diagram illustrates how these five steps of Eco Design correspond to a typical stage-gate process of a packaging design project.

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HANDLING CONFLICTING ENVIRONMENTAL TARGETS

During a packaging Eco Design project, there may be conflicts among the different optimisation approaches. Whereas in some cases the optimisation of different environmental aspects go hand-in-hand, in other cases optimising one environmental aspect may have adverse effects on another (e.g. weight reduction versus recyclability). In such cases, trade-offs need to be sought by management.

Life cycle assessments (LCAs) can make it easier to compare different packaging options with regard to defined environmental impact categories such as climate change potential or resource consumption. However, the limits of life cycle assessments must be taken into consideration here. For instance, littering is unquestionably an important environmental impact, but it is not covered by life cycle assessments and therefore has to be considered separately. Also, the results of LCA tools may only be valid for a certain geographical area.

Furthermore, the minimisation of environmental impacts by Eco Design remains a multidimensional target. Since the various environmental impacts do not represent a predefined and clearly hierarchical target system, there is no science-based approach for solving conflicts resulting from burden shifting from one impact area to another (e.g. climate change versus loss of biodiversity).

Within the Eco Design process, conflicting objectives must, however, be made transparent and ‘resolved’ through appropriate decisions referring to the priorities set for the design project (see step 4 in the Eco Design process). Depending on the complexity, either a table or a spider chart can be used to create transparency and visualise the pros and cons of each design option.

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In order to reduce the complexity of the decision-making, it is also useful to define minimum requirements for all relevant environmental targets while defining the environmental targets of the packaging project (see steps 1 and 2 of the management process).

As well as conflicts among different environmental targets, conflicts with the other key requirements, including, for instance, convenience, marketing functions or cost, may also occur within the Eco Design project. These conflicts can in principle be addressed in the same way as conflicts within the environmental domain.

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