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One to Grow On

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Members must pledge to publicly declare participation in the movement; initiate a dialogue about environmental impact and sustainable alternatives with each client; rework client contracts to favor environmentally responsible design and work processes; provide strategic and material alternatives for sustainable design; and measure the carbon footprint of their own firm and pledge to reduce it annually. Casey notes the group just signed its first corporate adopter, Autodesk, a design technology company that announced its alliance at the recent Ted Conference, and is in the process of adding paper companies such as Mohawk, New Leaf and Sappi. "Billion-dollar companies are saying it's important to band together to leverage the power of the collective," she says

Carli, a marketing and strategy expert who has worked with companies such as Xerox, Kodak and DuPont and is sustainability editor for Graphic Arts Monthly, says from his perspective the sustainable design movement has seen a "sea change" in support over the last two years and some improvements. The first wave of change in packaging design, he says, was all about reducing packaging, downsizing and dematerialization. "There are tremendous advances in print and electronics that we believe will enable the next wave of change in packaging," he says. "Packages are now active rather than passive objects."

Carli cites the developments of a Swedish company named Cypak. "They are printing a package for pharmaceuticals that contains circuits and antennas so you can monitor and manage compliance and efficacy," he explains.

"This is radically changing the nature of packaging. The sustainability of the package is about something far more important than it was made of recyclable materials or whether it reduced the amount of energy required to transport it," he says. "It's about improving the quality of life itself."

From the smallest changes, like Hamburger Helper downsizing its packaging by straightening its noodles, to innovative designs that allow products to be reused in innovative ways, the interest in sustainable design is growing. One skin-care company, Pangea Organics, literally allows consumers to grow herb gardens out of their discarded packaging, made from 100 percent post-consumer paper and organic seeds like sweet basil.

Generally, says Wendy Jedlicka, a Roseville, Minn.-based designer who has written extensively on the subject of sustainable design, manfuacturers have done a "horrible job" in this area. "Mostly because they are appreciating it from a superficial place," she says, pointing to companies that simply upgrade one element of a product rather than "approach the problem with a holistic eye. They need to look at the whole of their supply chain, like Aveda and, strangely, Wal-Mart."

Jason Pearson, president and CEO of GreenBlue, the Charlottesville, Va.-based parent of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, says he is unable to point to any product or package that is sustainable. "None," he says. "I don't think the word should be applied to packaging but to the health of the planet."

The coalition urges its diverse membership, which includes companies such as Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, to uphold a more "ambitious" definition of sustainable packaging inspired by the crade-to-cradle philosophy. According to the organization's Web site, the goal is "to create a world where all packaging is sourced responsibly, designed to be effective and safe throughout its life cycle, meets market criteria for performance and cost, is made entirely using renewable energy and, once used, is recycled efficiently to provide a valuable resource for subsequent generations."

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