Inside-Out Product Sustainability, the Ecolabel & Ecopackaging

We’re nearing the end of the “What is Green PLM” series, so it’s only appropriate that we talk about a later stage in PLM, packaging. You can argue that packaging should be considered, designed and planned for as part of the PLM process.

The Inside

There are so many ways to gage product sustainability and therefore numerous potential criteria to chose from for creating ecolabels on packaging. Yet this is a largely underdeveloped practice. For now.

Companies know that consumers tend to make emotional purchasing decisions, and sustainability is growing as a purchase trigger. People feel good making ethical purchase decisions. This coupled with the burgeoning environmental and sustainability compliance regulations make for a given: more and more companies will start to incorporate ecolabeling to their packaging so that consumers can easily identify and purchase sustainable products.

One of the ecolabel debates is should we, and how would we, indicate carbon criteria into product labeling. Not too long ago I read an interview conducted by GreenPower Conferences with Benjamin Casper, head of the European Commission’s EU Ecolabel team. When asked if the EU has plans to include specific amounts of carbon in its ecolabel, Benjamin responded:

We are looking into the possibility of more systematically introducing carbon related criteria into the Ecolabel, so that products bearing the label would have been compared to others in relation to carbon impact in the most significant areas of the products lifecycle, however this would not lead to details on specific figures on carbon being placed on products because making the calculations to provide accurate figures is proving almost impossibly complicated. Fundamentally we plan to stick with the rule that if you see the Ecolabel logo on a product, you can trust it to be one of the better products on the market in terms of environmental performance.

The Outside

To be consistent, companies must concern themselves with ensuring their products’ packaging is also sustainable. Was it designed to optimize materials? Which materials were used—ones that have been recycled and can go for another recycling spin? For logistics and transport, what about volume and weight? But there’s another side to this: will the ecopackaging and the ecolabel stand out on the shelf and attract shoppers to pick up the, let’s say ‘cookie box,’ consider a purchase, and then buy?

Even as consumers’ tastes change, a cookie box will still be one of many on a store shelf. It will always be in competition with dozens of others. The old-timey way to discern the best packaging was in focus groups. Gather a group of folks into an office or privatized store and get their feedback before finalizing packaging design. But is THIS sustainable? How many focus group sessions do you have to conduct, and in how many markets, before you can reach a final conclusion? And how many airplane flights (think carbon emissions) will it take?

There is another way. Virtual focus groups.

What if you can repurpose the 3D digital representation of your product by putting it into play in a virtual reality environment, and then invite consumers to test various ecopackaging scenarios in the comfort of their own homes, workplaces, and at their convenience? Imagine how much more feedback you can obtain, and at such a low impact!

There are lots of possibilities out there, and groups like ThinkBalm have developed entire communities to explore innovations with virtual worlds. They even have their meetings in places like Second Life. Through a joint venture called 3Dswym (swym = see what you mean), Dassault Systèmes and Publicis are leveraging the concept of virtual worlds to provide companies with software tools and services to conduct virtual focus groups.

I asked my colleague and one of the 3Dswym founders, Philippe Loeb, if he thinks companies are ready for virtual focus groups. Philippe said:

Virtual focus groups are emerging at a very particular time. Our clients are in indeed in front of a triple challenge: First, they need to continue to innovate for and also with consumers to match their rapidly changing expectations, like eco-packaging. In addition, many of them are in a position where they cannot afford multiple market failures. More than ever, they need to validate products’ potential by multiplying tests with consumers. Finally, they must at the same time control cost and the impact of overall product development, including testing and iteration loops. That’s why they see a growing interest in Virtual Focus groups. But for the time being, most of them still see it as a complement to traditional market research techniques.

There are some virtual packaging demos on the 3Dswym site that you can check out to get a feel.

Now that your minds are wrapped around ecopacaking and ecolabeling, I’d like to point out that the next post will be the last in our “What is Green PLM” series. I’m very pleased to introduce you to Jonathan Dutton, a former engine designer and now an automotive strategy guy for Dassault Systèmes. He’s going to wrap up our series with a post about sustainable transport. I think you’ll see the eco-warrior side of Mr. Dutton shine through; he’s passionate about his topic.



P.S. If you want to play an online teaser/game about sustainable marketing/packaging through a virtual shopping experience, go this CSR Europe page. In addition to the game, you’ll also find a free downloadable sustainable marketing guide. Both were developed in partnership with CSR Europe, BT, Dassault Systèmes, Danone, Sony and others.