Tag Archives: creating value

Puma’s “clever little bag” and other lessons in sustainable packaging

Thanks to Chris Sherwin – former head of innovation at Forum for the Future and now a consultant at Dragon Rouge – for forwarding me his recent Design Week piece on the future of sustainable packaging.

If you’re thinking “Packaging? Yuk, how dull!” just hold your horses for a second.

Quite apart from the fact that packaging waste is a major problem – 6 million tonnes of it discarded every year by UK households alone (much of it, of course, ending up in landfill) – a couple of the examples Chris cites are actually rather sexy and seriously bloody clever.

None more so than Puma’s aptly named “clever little bag” – an innovation developed by Yves Behar (he of XO Laptop fame) – which is just such a smart idea on so many levels, and amply illustrates the value that design can bring to the development of more sustainable products and systems.

What’s so clever about it is the way in which it simultaneously attacks the packaging waste problem from both ends of the life-cycle:

  1. Tackling inputs – How can we design waste out of the system through our choice of materials? How can we reduce the types and volume of materials used, reduce the energy and water involved in their sourcing, manufacture and transportation, and ensure that they are safe and healthy for people to use at every stage (including all probable end-of-life scenarios)?
  2. Delaying/preventing disposal – How can we migrate behaviours away from single-use packaging that’s instantly discarded once a product is opened? What if we could give packaging life beyond life? Once it’s fulfilled its purpose of protecting the product on its way to the customer, what other purposes could it usefully fulfil? How can we make it desirable to keep?

What’s even cleverer about this solution (to my mind at least) is the way in which it potentially reframes the value proposition of sustainability for consumers.

Sure, it ticks all the obvious environmental performance boxes (8,500 tonnes less paper consumed, 20 million mega-joules of electricity saved, 1 million litres less fuel oil used, 1 million litres of water conserved etc.), but it goes beyond that.

The “clever little bag” doesn’t just filter out the nasties; it gives the customer something extra – something they can continue to use, for example, to store their shoes in a suitcase or kitbag, to stop their other stuff from getting mucky.

That may not sound like much in practice but, in principle, it’s a massive shift – a reason to choose the more sustainable option not simply because it’s “the right thing to do” (essentially a proposition based on guilt), but because the solution actually outperforms its less sustainable alternatives (one based on added value).

That principle, writ large, is at the heart of creating mass market appeal for more sustainable products, experiences and business models and (as I’ve written in the past) where design can add greatest value – by replacing messages of doom and gloom with ones of hope and aspiration.

First, define sustainability. Then let’s talk.

I’ve borrowed the title of this post from Brian Moss, an MBA/MS student at University of Michigan, who (I’m flattered to say) saw fit to quote my definition of sustainability* in a fantastic piece on his Considering Design + Sustainability blog a couple of weeks ago.

He concludes with the following lines – the importance of which is impossible to understate and deserves further unpicking:

I guess if there is a moral here it is to always remember that the definition of sustainability is context specific, and that the first part of any conversation – with stakeholders, with consumers, with each other – should be to answer the question ‘How do WE define sustainability?’

Amen to that, and – as ever, it seems – it’s the core principle of materiality that holds the key.

Why? Because materiality is the key to demonstrating an authentic commitment to sustainability and is essentially there to be examined and judged along two critical lines:

  1. Company-based materiality – i.e. beyond the thin veneer of corporate philanthropy and cause-related marketing, organisations’ sustainability strategies should (at a minimum) be focused on addressing impacts directly related to their sphere of operations. (For example, if you’re a bank, sustainability has bugger all to do with painting schools in Africa and everything to do with responsible lending and investment!) Better yet, sustainability should be a fundamental design value underpinning business strategy and culture, such that your core products and services are geared towards creating value for the business and for society in one and the same act.
  2. Market-based materiality – i.e. that goal of creating shared value should also see sustainability/business strategy geared towards helping to solve those problems and concerns that most greatly affect society in the specific markets in which you operate. Take my Saudi mobile phone client as an example. In Saudi Arabia, where chronic health conditions like CHD and hypertension are one of society’s most pressing concerns, it’s material to consider how mobile technologies might be applied to improving access to, and effectiveness of, healthcare services.

Much to the chagrin of clients who wish you’d just reach up to the shelf labelled “Best Practice” and pull down a nice, neat cookbook solution, the upshot of all of this is that no two strategies are ever likely to be identical.

The principle of materially dictates the consideration of a combination of contextual factors that will always vary from business to business and market to market. Whilst the basic principle remains constant, its embodiment in strategy and execution are necessarily different in each case.

This is the reason why Brian’s apparently innocuous question is of such vital importance, and why the commitment to real sustainability of anyone (provider or client) who suggests otherwise should be considered highly questionable!


* Sustainability is a perspective on brand and business strategy that inextricably links long-term success with serving a higher social purpose

I knew it was cold, but…

Over recent weeks I’ve written a number of posts suggesting that sustainability  (as I’ve long defined it in terms of “longevity”) is finally coming of age – not least Sir Stuart Rose’s assertion that businesses with unsustainable business models will die within 20 years.

This perspective takes sustainability way beyond “green” and reputation management and positions it in the context of fundamental long-term business viability – a key driver of institutional innovation if businesses are to remain credible, relevant and differentiated, particularly in this post-GFC world.

More precisely, I have written of sustainability as “a perspective on brand and business strategy that inextricably links long-term success with serving a higher social purpose.”

More than a little weird, then, to read about these very similar words taken from a new HBR article…

[Shared value] involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. Businesses must reconnect company success with social progress… [This] is not on the margin of what companies do but at the centre.

It gets even weirder when you realise who wrote them (cue fanfare)…

Michael Bloody Porter!

[Incidentally, very few people know that that’s actually his full name :-)]

If you’d asked me to name the strategy uberguru least likely to have written these words, Porter – he of the Five Forces and the high priest of an outside-in, adversarial stance on corporate strategy – would almost certainly have come top of the list. And yet here it is in black and white.

I knew it was cold outside, but I didn’t think it was THAT cold. Hell, it seems, has actually frozen over!

Looking for inspiration? Come and meet Ray Anderson

When it comes to creating awareness and understanding of the business value of pursuing sustainable development, there can be few greater ambassadors than Ray Anderson – founder and chairman of Interface Inc.

The story of Interface’s transformation, and Ray’s subsequent efforts to engage other businesses in the pursuit of sustainability, provides a living and breathing example of what I mean when I talk about operating at Level 5 on the CR Continuum.

It’s also a perfect example of what I’ve come to refer to as “CR 2.0” – essentially the shift in outlook from CR as a means to protect and enhance corporate reputation to CR as a critical driver of innovation and value creation.

All of which brings me neatly to what stands to be a really inspirational event on June 17th, hosted by Ashridge Business School, where Ray will share his insights on “The Business of Sustainability”.

Together with other members of Interface and Ashridge Consulting, Ray will offer senior business leaders a unique opportunity to explore the possibilities (and implications) presented by transforming business practice in accordance with CR principles.

For more information, and to book your place, email kate.campbell@ashridge.org.uk