Packing pressure on the ­environment

June 2017 Security Services & Risk Management

It’s a strange reference for the time of year, but maybe you celebrate Christmas in July. Let’s say it’s Christmas morning, presents are unwrapped and now it’s time for the next task – collect and throw away all the packaging. The mere volume of the packaging compared to the actual trinkets they hold is astounding.

The way we package products is becoming increasingly important in a fast-changing business environment. Previously thought of as minor issues, this type of consideration can no longer be an afterthought in the product development process. A change of thinking has happened, but in my opinion, its misguided on the supplier side.

Perhaps it’s because we approach things from a security industry perspective, but it seems that the manufacturers’ response to this challenge is to simply overdo things. The primary function of our packaging should be to protect the product on its journey to the customer. It seems our security mindset has made us over secure. An informed and discerning customer also expects the packaging to reflect the nature, quality and brand of the product which it protects. They expect a certain ‘experience’ when unpacking the product.

This poses a bigger challenge for product developers, who must achieve this with all the modern-day challenges in mind. Environmental considerations alone would dictate a minimum impact and suggest that a ‘less is more’ approach is vital. Cost and operational considerations would suggest minimum spec to meet the requirement. Design considerations would dictate that form follows function. Somehow we are getting this all wrong.

The Apple iPhone set a new standard in product experience using packaging. To open a new iPhone was a thrill. The packaging was beautiful and well considered. Other manufacturers followed suit, so we have come to expect this experience. This is, however, very different to a distribution chain of manufacturer – distributor – customer store – installation crew’s bakkie – back of consumer’s cupboard. If we look closer at the Apple product, we see meticulous thought into simplification. It’s so much harder to simplify things than to complicate them. Over engineering, complication and embellishment is a mindset which works beautifully for a 17th century palace. Unfortunately, it’s no longer that simple.

A modern-day example of this mindset is the packaging of Chinese tea. The tea portion can be initially shrink-wrapped in plastic, then wrapped again in a tight fitting printed material, often a foil or printed in gold. It’s then packed into a full colour printed metal tin. The tins are then packed into a box, often made of wood and lined with velvet. There is a full-colour printed leaflet inside. The box is then put into a branded carrier bag. This type of excess is becoming unacceptable and often creates more of a negative impression with a discerning buyer.

Savvy business owners and decision makers are thinking in this way. It’s no longer easy to impress them with extravagance. A recent example is a business owner rejecting a product after delivery because every unit was in a plastic bag within the box. Being an avid diver and coming across plastic bags even on remote tropical reefs, the lack of proper consideration in the packaging repulsed this decision maker. We need to minimise everything cleverly, even items like instruction leaflets inside the box. The market knows that it’s easy and cheap to have high volumes of ‘excessive’ packaging imported from the east. If it’s not necessary, leave it out – it’s no longer impressing us.

The example is extreme, but more industry leaders need to think in this way. We are approaching a business environment where products and services are being shared, traded, re-used and even de-materialised. A new generation of consumers expects more and we need to stop thinking we are being clever, and start being smart. It’s no longer enough to print a pretty full-colour design on every box. It’s just not enough and, in fact, printing inks and cleaning chemicals should be minimised.

The message to those involved in product development is clear. Be aware that the pile of ‘beautiful’ discarded boxes in your customer’s store is no longer impressing them. It’s a mountain of shame.

For more information contact RDC, +27 (0)11 452 1471,,


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