Design Packaging With A Sustainable End In Mind


By Kristen Duncan, Sustainability Manager for Neenah

Today’s consumers are more interested in the environmental impact of products and packaging than ever before. A recent Forbes survey says, “87% of people would buy a product with a social and environmental benefit if given the opportunity and 92% would be more likely to trust a company that supports social or environmental issues.” Kristen Duncan couldn’t agree more. Duncan recently took the reins on Neenah’s environmental marketing programs, citing sustainability and mitigating climate change as her missions. She brings with her a Bachelor of Science in Graphic Communication from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, an MBA from Cal State Fullerton, and a passion for the environment. In this Op-ed, Duncan speaks candidly about consumer influence on sustainable branding decisions, and the role of designers play in responsible disposal of product packaging.



Caption: Matte Coating provides a luxurious feel and a smooth, even print surface. Shown here: NEENAH® Folding Board 100 PC WHITE 18pt Matte Single, printed 4- Color process plus Pantone® Light Blue and Great Western Gold Foil

Consumers have influence over sustainable product development.

Many brands have already recognized the significance of creating more sustainable products and using environmentally friendly packaging options to meet rising consumer demand. Interestingly, much of that is a result of consumer opinion, not just legislation.

Social media has created a potent tool for consumers to express their excitement or disappointment about products in a much more public way. Gone are the days of greenwashing and gaslighting consumers into believing your company is doing the right thing. You must follow through.



Caption: Design stand-out packaging sustainably without forgoing luxury. Shown here: NEENAH® Folding Board DEEP BLACK 18pt Matte Double, printed with Pantone® Metallic Gold + Great Western Matte Silver Foil


Knowing they are under the microscope, many brands now realize the importance of designing a sustainable brand experience from inception to disposal. Therefore, packaging has some heavy lifting to do in product perception, education, and life cycle. Everything from using sustainably sourced materials to product messaging carries weight. So, brands and designers have to consider “designing with the end in mind.”

Designers are agents of change.

Because design has the power to uniquely influence the way people think or act, designers have long been agents of change. Therefore, if consumers ask for brands to be more environmentally responsible, design and designers play a large role in that process. While you may be hired to produce a sustainable product, every decision you make should revolve around what happens to each piece of the product and packaging after consumers have had their unboxing experience.



Caption: Beautiful packaging enhances brand experience. Shown here: FSC® Certified, NEENAH® Folding Board PC WHITE HEMP 18pt, printed 4-color process


Putting environmental symbols on product packaging is a significant first step, but it is no longer enough. For brand interactions to make a more substantial impact, we need consumer support to ensure the responsibly sourced supply chain stays intact from purchase to disposal.

For a designer, everything from products to messaging to paper choice is essential in leaving an environmental impression. In considering materials for product packaging, it’s critical to choose papers upholding sustainable brand values, stand out on the shelf, and allow consumers to easily disposed of materials for the least environmental footprint. That’s a lot to think about.

Sustainable design is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

It’s an exciting time for design. I see the most significant opportunity for developing products that are more “sustainable” and packaged as such starts with designers. By speaking to suppliers and understanding all of the options, you can create a cradle-to-grave chain that includes working together from start to finish to kickstart lasting environmental impact. Look for suppliers who make it easy for companies and designers to make the right decisions without compromising beauty or quality.


Caption: Let the experts help you to “Elevate Your Brand” in Neenah’s highly-anticipated February 2021 webinar on sustainable packaging solutions, design trends, and more


When consumers put our folding board products into their yard waste or industrial composting bin, it is sorted and placed into an accurate environment for biodegradability, so it actually breaks down and adds nutrients back into the soil. And it’s an excellent brand message for consumers looking to ensure packaging products remain part of the circular economy and start moving further away from the single-use, linear economy.

Not sure where to start or need a refresher? Kick-off the New Year right with our free webinar. Learn from industry experts how to Elevate Your Brand with sustainable packaging solutions, design trends, and more.