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Special Interview

Estee Lauder executive tackles sustainable packaging

By Guy Montague-Jones , 22-Jul-2008

Manufacturers realize they need to become sustainable to remain competitive. Eco-friendly packaging is a vital component of this but presents companies with a myriad of choices and challenges.

CosmeticsDesign.com spoke to John Delfausse, the vice president of package design at The Estee Lauder Companies, to ask how beauty brands should navigate down the path to green packaging.

Beauty launches with sustainable packaging have multiplied in recent months as concern over climate change provokes a shift in the consumer mindset towards greener products.

Delfausse said industry is very concerned about corporate social responsibility and sustainable packaging can help companies significantly in this regard.

A competitive edge can be gained from well thought out sustainable packaging but manufacturers must think beyond recycling.

Defining sustainable packaging

Delfausse pointed to the definition of the term created by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), of which he is an executive committee member and Estee Lauder is a founding member.

It states that as well using the maximum amount of renewable and recycled materials, sustainable packaging is sourced, manufactured and transported using renewable energy.

This means that companies must consider the manufacturing processes of their suppliers and distributors in addition to their own.

"Manufacturers must adopt a totally different thought process at the design stage," said Delfausse.

The entire life cycle must be considered including the future of the product once it has left the shelf.

Delfausse said: "It is the responsibility of industry and government working together to create an infrastructure that ensures that materials can be recaptured."

Broad range of packaging materials

With regards to materials, companies face a daunting range of alternatives at the design stage including a variety of bio-plastics, recycled materials and recyclable packaging.

Manufacturers must look to be as sustainable as possible without sacrificing performance or adding excessive costs, according to Delfausse.

He said bio-plastics suffer from stress cracks and when exposed to heat they can deform making them a poor option for jars. But for other applications where performance will remain unaffected they may be preferred.

Creativity is vital to success

Delfausse emphasized the importance of experimentation and creativity when designing sustainable packaging.

For instance, in the luxury market, companies have to overcome the challenge of being sustainable while maintaining an expensive feel that is usually achieved with plenty of secondary packaging.

Responding to this problem, Estee Lauder, created a glass bottle and metal sleeve for its Donna Karan Gold fragrance that can be separated and sorted for recycling.

Other constraints and challenges include the use of exotic materials that are not ordinarily suitable.

Delfausse said a promising solution is take-back programs organized by brands for troublesome materials. He cited an initiative Aveda undertook to recycle plastic bottle tops as an illustration.

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