Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Ahead of the Curve:
Designing in Sustainability from the Start

For companies and brands today, more sustainable production methods are topping lists of things to do. The uncertainty of material and vendor prices, the need to comply with a growing number of regulations and mounting evidence of environmental impacts increasingly drive change. More and more manufacturers are investing time, energy and money to fix infrastructures and further optimize supply and production chains. They have to, after increasingly finding themselves at risk for not putting forth the resources necessary to make their processes more sustainable. This is not to mention the vulnerability they incur by ignoring the growing demands of consumers who now expect transparency and CSR as a baseline.

However, sustainability initiatives by many manufacturers and consumer product companies today are reactive in nature. Brands launch ad hoc initiatives that take a sort of “cause and effect” approach to resource strategy by responding to situations as they occur, perpetuating the system by working within it. What this does is treat symptoms rather than move towards a cure, which does not necessarily help to design out structural inefficiencies that result in waste. Though any authentic steps towards sustainability are steps in the right direction, there is more that companies can do to prepare for the future.

LemonKind is one brand that worked long-term sustainability into its brand DNA through proactive strategy. Making chemical-free, pressed juice shelf-stable was a feat of technology and design that set it apart from other products on the market. The technology includes single-serving, aseptic plastic pouches designed to stand up, store slim and protect the preservative-free juices inside, the multi-compositional nature of which puts them outside the scope of recyclability in the traditional waste-management infrastructure.

By working closely with my company, TerraCycle, LemonKind developed a regenerative waste solution for its conventionally unrecyclable product packaging waste prior to launch. The information was available as soon as the website went live, the solution accessible when the products reached distribution, making the pouches 100 percent recyclable through the program. Rather than retroactively solving for its waste by reacting to the problem down the road, LemonKind had an end-of-life solution for its single-serving juice pouches established as part of its coming to market: To recycle the pouches (comprised of polyethylene [PE], polyethylene terephthalate [PET] and aluminum), the material is first shredded and washed in order to remove any residual food product. The plastic packaging is then melted and filtered to collect the plastic and aluminum, which are blended with additives before being used in industrial plastic applications.

Innovative products disrupt their industry by creating new value networks and displacing existing ones. Sometimes, this means increased value factors in one area, such as convenience or quality, at the cost of displacing value in another, such as environmental friendliness. Preparing for long-term resilience by anticipating these potential issues creates a new culture of sustainability that is less linear and more circular, designing out structural waste on a proactive timeline to increase overall value.

By staying one step ahead, proactive initiatives by companies and manufacturers make for models of waste and resource management that are, in a sense, tailored to work for them – and leave them miles ahead of competitors that are still working to clean up their own messes.

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