Product and packaging design over the years


The industrial revolution

First national eco-label, Germany's Blue Angel program was developed to track and report on certain aspects of a product's environmental performance.

Design for Recovery

Tools like design for disassembly or for recovery and recycling, also known as Design for Recovery (DfR), help industrial designers and design teams define approaches for reclaiming materials.


Energy Crisis

Victor Papanek's first book Design for the Real World published in 1971 revolutionized ideas about industrial design. Papanek said that, if a designer wishes to contribute to reinventing the world, he will need to find – or rediscover – the courage to take a stand with regard to society’s issues (principles relating to quality, the limits of natural resources, cultural identity, biotechnologies, demographic imbalances, North-South relationships) and clearly define his ethos.
The 1973 energy crisis (the oil shock) resulted in skyrocketing oil prices that forced industry to revise practices in order to reduce energy consumption and costs.

Design for energy content

The energy content approach, developed in Switzerland by the Swiss Packaging Institute, focuses on measuring energy consumption and quantities of solid and liquid waste as well as gas emissions. Developed for manufacturers and distributors, this method was updated and now includes more environmental performance criteria (Swiss Packaging Institute).


Multi-criteria approaches

TerraChoice created Canada's “Environmental Choice” ecolabel in 1988. It was renamed “EcoLogo” after TerraChoice and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) merged in 2010.
As the concept of sustainable development emerged in the 1990s, economic prosperity was for the first time weighed against the environmental and social repercussions generated by industry.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the world-renowned Energy Star program in 1992 to promote energy saving products and buildings.

Ecodesign / Life Cycle Analysis

The definition of environmental criteria for product or packaging, starting at the design phase and going upstream, is the best way to anticipate and reduce environmental impacts. That "cradle-to-grave" approach is given different names in product and packaging design, including Design for the Environment (DfE).


Brief history of EPR

The concept of extended producer responsibility (EPR) was first launched in 1994 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Germany, Austria, France and Belgium were among the first to implement national EPR programs to manage products and waste, including electrical and electronic equipment, packaging and printed matter.

France's Agence de l’Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’Énergie defines the circular economy as an economic and production exchange system that, at every stage of product life cycle (goods and services), is designed to increase the efficiency of resource use, reduce environmental impacts and ensure the well-being of individuals.

Creating a circular economy involves a series of approaches, business strategies and tools that can be applied to varying extents or at different stages of the value chain, including ecodesign, industrial ecology, reuse, reconditioning and recycling, as well as collaborative consumption and functionality economy.

Many countries have developed tools under an extended producer responsibility program to help companies implement ecodesign initiatives. Discover some inspiring examples (non-exhaustive list).

EPR is an environmental policy instrument that:

  • Encourages producers to consider environmental aspects starting at the design stage.
  • Encourages reduced packaging waste at the source and stimulates innovation.
  • Contributes to reaching public objectives for materials recycling and management.

Éco Entreprises Québec

Éco Entreprises Québec (ÉEQ) is a private non-profit organization responsible for financing municipal services for the collection, sorting and conditioning of containers, packaging and printed matter in Quebec in a sustainable development perspective.

Based on internationally-recognized ecodesign strategies, norms and standards, is an innovative and interactive platform developed to help companies doing business in Canada meet today’s packaging challenges by providing guidance in the optimization of packaging and printed matter design. In addition, the portal recognizes and promotes packaging and printed matter optimization initiatives via OptimAction, an interactive visualization tool developed by Éco Entreprises Québec to communicate the benefits reaped from those initiatives.


Eco-Emballage is a French eco-organization that ensures the application of extended producer responsibility policies related to the end-of-life management of residential packaging. Éco-Emballages works in cooperation with companies to promote ecodesign and packaging reduction, finance curbside recycling and contribute to the effectiveness of the French system, in addition to raising public awareness about packaging recycling.

Bilan environnemental des emballages (BEE)

Since 2008, as part of its mission to reduce the production of packaging waste, Eco-Emballages has made a methodical packaging assessment tool available to promote ecodesign in compliance with its certification obligations.

This simple process was developed with advice provided by a group of manufacturers and distributors that resulted in the development of BEE specifications. The initiatives compiled via this tool are available on their “Réduction à la source” website (Eco-Emballages: Réduction à la source), which details actions taken at the source to reduce packaging. To date, the “Catalogue des actions de réduction” lists over 60 optimization initiatives undertaken by approximately 20 companies.

Trophées ECOTOP

Trophées ECOTOP is an initiative launched by Eco-Emballages in 2005 in partnership with the Association des maires de France et l’École supérieure d’ingénieurs en emballage et conditionnement de Reims (ESIEC). The Ministère de l’Écologie et du Développement durable oversees the project. Trophées ECOTOP promotes the sharing of initiatives and experiences on a national level to optimize curbside recycling by rewarding local communities that perform best and implementing actions to reduce packaging at the source.


Adelphe is the second eco-organization to be certified by French government authorities responsible for the end-of-life management of household packaging. In 2013, Adelphe partenered with Les entreprises du médicament (LEEM), which represents pharmaceutical companies in France, to publish a practical guide for ecodesigning medication packaging entitled Éco-conception des emballages : comment aller plus loin? - Guide pratique - Acteurs du médicament.

Conseil national de l’emballage (CNE)

Working groups (collective intelligence): Multiparty groups that study various subjects relating to packaging. The CNE does not favour one material or packaging to the detriment of another. The objective is to study environmental issues related to packaging, produce documents, guides, technical fact sheets, etc. that contribute to a better understanding of packaging and opportunities for action.

Fost Plus

Fost Plus is a private organization responsible for managing and financing curbside collection, sorting and recycling residential packaging in Belgium.


Preventpack is an electronic platform that supports and stimulates the dynamics of reducing packaging at the source. The portal provides technical documentation, video capsules and several publications on specific subjects, in addition to case studies illustrating packaging reduction at the source.


Pack4Ecodesign is an online tool enabling the measurement of the environmental footprint produced by a given packaging item using a life cycle approach.

United Kingdom
Waste and Ressources Action Programme (WRAP)

WRAP is the organization responsible for the Courtauld Commitment (CC) and is also a packaging research as well as a scientific and technical documentation centre.

Courtauld Commitment

The Courtauld Commitment (CC) is a voluntary commitment by the food sector (consumer goods) aimed at improving resource efficiency and reducing carbon emissions and the wider environmental impact of the government's climate change program.

Phase 1 of the Courtauld Commitment was launched in 2005 with objectives to reduce food and packaging waste, focusing only on the food sector. Phase 2, launched in the winter of 2010, has increased focus on life cycle and the efficient use of resources throughout the life cycle of packaged products and printed matter by soliciting the commitment of all stakeholders in the procurement chain.

Following that highly successful initiative, WRAP launched other voluntary agreements with other business sectors, including the durable goods, clothing and hotel industries.

Repak • Prevent & Save

Repak is the eco-organization responsible for the Packaging Waste Prevention Programme whose website, Preventandsave, offers a range of documents on packaging and prevention issues. Best practices relating to packaging prevention and packaging waste are published on the site.

Australian Packaging Covenant

In Australia, companies are not compelled to join the Australian Packaging Covenant (APC), which is a voluntary approach requiring companies to comply with Sustainable Packaging Guidelines (SPG) and apply packaging optimization measures and indicators. By joining, companies agree to contribute financially to the program.

Companies that violate the guidelines or "free-riders" are forced to comply with the National Environment Protection (Used Packaging Materials) Measures (NEPMS), which are, in effect, territorial regulations that are more stringent than the APC.

Sustainable Packaging Toolkit

In 2012 (or 2013), the APC launched an interactive portal called the Sustainable Packaging Toolkit (SPT) to guide ecodesign teams carry out packaging optimization initiatives.

Singapore Packaging Agreement

The Singapore ministry responsible for environmental issues initiated, in July 2007, the Singapore Packaging Agreement (SPA), which is a five-year voluntary agreement with industry. Originally focused on the food sector, it has covered all business sectors since 2009. Companies must develop an action plan that defines packaging optimization objectives. The SPA is still in effect and serves as the packaging ERP program. Best optimization practices are listed on a yearly basis.

The Consumer Goods Forum

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) is a global, parity-based industry network, driven by its members. It brings together the CEOs and senior management of over 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers and other stakeholders across 70 countries and reflects the diversity of the industry in geography, size, product category and format.

Global Packaging Project (GPP)

The Global Packaging Project was developed by the Consumer Goods Forum in 2008. Largely inspired from the Sustainable Packaging Indicators and Metrics Framework developed by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), the GPP defines indicators and attributes to assess the environmental performance of packaged products and includes a definition, a quantification formula and examples for each indicator. The document lists concepts, definitions and relevant indicators for carrying out a packaging optimization initiative.

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