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Design Bridge Visits: BNO Summer Class (and it’s all about packaging)

Sustainability. An incredibly interesting, important and relevant subject for anyone involved in Packaging Design, and the subject of this year’s BNO Summer Class: All About Packaging. A day full of talks, workshops, case studies and inspiration to really rethink the way we handle sustainability within design, we sent Raven, Daisy, Eliot and Bertrand from our Amsterdam Studio along to dive into the world of sustainability. Here’s what they learnt…

“Find another way to make a difference”

Sustainability isn’t always about how to help the earth in an environmental way. Jason Kempen – a familiar face, he’s one of our Creative Directors– was one of the first speakers. Jason explained how being sustainable isn’t always about being ‘green’, it can also relate to business and people. Being sustainable in business is about always producing your best work and really thinking about what would help a brand to keep it healthy and thriving. For example, it could be bringing an outdated brand back to life and giving it a new sense of purpose.

Sustainability in the context of people was the one in which I was truly inspired, having never linked these two ideas together before. Sustainability in this context is about giving people a chance, making sure that old crafts don’t die, and finding ways to help young creatives flourish – sustaining the very industry we work in. A nice example of this is the project we did for Booth’s Gin, where we worked with the incredibly talented ornamental glass artist David A. Smith. Not only did we bring this forgotten brand back, we also collaborated with a traditional craftsperson before it becomes a lost art. You can find out more about the project here.


Finding sustainable solutions in strange places

Next up, FLEX/design told us an inspiring and heartwarming story about two young Dutch entrepreneurs who saw how Nepalese women used the empty shells of the sapindus fruit to do their laundry, and asked themselves, “Why do we use synthetic products if we can do our laundry in a natural way?”

They learnt that the sapindus shells contain a natural form of soap called saponine, which is released as soon as it comes into contact with water. Seepje was born – a brand that uses these Nepalese shells to create hypoallergenic, organic and chemical-free soaps and laundry detergents.


Following the principles of circular economy, Flex also saw a sustainable opportunity for their product packaging too, using recycled plastic milk bottles from the UK. It just goes to show, packaging solutions really can come from anywhere.

The future challenges and sustainability of packaging

Did you know that half of all plastic that has ever existed was made in the past 13 years? This was one of the most shocking facts I learnt during the day, and it made me question how can we, as Packaging Designers, help to reduce this number? Technology and science are giving us designers new opportunities to come up with new solutions, such as how our clients at Unilever have started to use a new type of plastic for some of its packaging. Dove skincare is one brand that is trialling this new material in which air bubbles embedded within the material reduce the weight of the bottle, therefore reducing the total amount needed to make the packaging whilst retaining its strength.

Nynke Arntzen & Marc Reijnders, packaging experts at KIDV (The Netherlands Institute for Sustainable Packaging), also gave us some insight into different sustainable materials that can be used instead of paper and wood, with elephant grass being one of the most notable. Elephant grass is a reed-like plant with properties that make it very useful as an alternative resource for numerous materials, such as paper, bio-based plastics and even concrete. It has the same energy values as coal and contains a lot of cellulose fibres, making it very strong and versatile. And, because it only contains 9 percent of moisture, these is no need do dehydrate it before processing, which saves energy. A real game changer, if you ask me.

Learning from nature: Biomimicry

The REGGS talk focused on packaging in the future, exploring a few challenges and possible solutions to them, as well as introducing us to using “biomimicry” as a design process.

Biomimicry essentially means the imitation of elements found in nature to solve complex human problems. After all, nature has had 4 billion years to test, develop, and fail. That’s like 4 billion years of R&D! And the best part is that using this amazing database is completely royalty free!

The best-known example of biomimicry is the Japanese high-speed train, the Shinkansen. Its front is stretched and pointy, inspired by the beak of the kingfisher bird to optimise the aerodynamics. Nature’s laws have also inspired a lot of buildings and recent technological innovations. The Eiffel Tower, for example, has been built with the human skull structure in mind, and the design of wind turbine blades is derived from whale flippers.

After learning a bit more about this way of thinking, we got the opportunity to put our own biomimicry “skills” to the test during a workshop. Our task was to imagine that the water levels were rising and Amsterdam would be completely submerged within 30 minutes. Could we get inspired by concepts seen in nature to think of ways to save the city and the people in it? The exercise was set up to be very quick & dirty, so it was actually a lot of fun to think of crazy ideas to make it work!



For instance, why can’t we save ourselves by just running away on the water, just like the Basilisk (or ‘Jesus Christ’ lizard) does? Or can we stick bioluminescent sea slugs to our bodies so we can at least have some light? Why not make a suit out of hydrophobic leaves to repel the water and keep our socks dry? The sky – or should I say sea? – was the limit for our solutions!

Overall, we had a very interesting and thought-provoking day, after which we all felt truly inspired and ready to put some of what we learnt into practice.

It really made us conscious of the way we behave and how that affects the world around us, which is very important – not only for us as designers, but for absolutely anyone living on this little rock we call Earth. After all, we do want to stay here for a few more generations, right?


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