The Ena Karo case
Ena Karo, located in Tinos, Greece, is a small workshop that produces natural, cruelty-free soaps and toiletries. The brand follows ethical production practices and has an environmentally conscious mindset. Taking on their rebranding was the perfect chance for us to dive deeper into sustainable packaging design.
Sustainability has been a growing necessity in our industry these past years. Of course, we must point out that sustainability is not a matter of black or white. The available options depend on location, resources, recycling infrastructure and many more, thus can never be about conquering a particular mountain top but rather about constantly reevaluating our ways and processes.
The Life Cycle Assessment is a methodοlogy to assess the environmental impact of a product over its entire life-cycle. Using this methodοlogy as a first step in designing packaging products is an enlightening process. These are our notes on exploring sustainable packaging solutions that would fit production, transportation and customer use in Greece.
Knowing everything about the product and all its needs is an essential step in packaging design. The packaging is there to protect the product and extend its lifetime for as long as possible. We had to make clear that no solution, no matter how sustainable in terms of materials or practices, would rightfully serve its purpose if the products leaked or were damaged after transport. In the same manner, there is no use in designing packaging from sustainable materials that cannot be efficiently packed for secondary transportation or even worse, cannot be recycled in your region.
In the past the brand’s main product, the handmade soaps, were packed with plastic wrap and recycled paper. This choice allowed for a clear view of the product but did not provide sufficient protection for it. The product’s deterioration by the sunlight, together with some accidents during transport, resulted in excessive use of wrapping paper and bubble wrap.
Body oils, body scrubs and lip balms used to come in glass bottles and jars. Although glass is easily recycled, it is heavy, adding weight and costs to the shipping. We wanted to find a lightweight, everlasting and easily recycled material for these products.
For all products, we decided to choose boxes made of multi-certified paper: FSC, PEFC and Nordic Ecolabel. We designed them to be cut out and assembled with no glue. This way not only makes for better, more efficient recycling but it has added benefits even before production —the printing house ships the boxes flat and stacked, saving energy. Additionally, the previous labels were small, allowing for a certain amount of information to be printed on them. The brand wanted to add more information on the packaging, using both Greek and English, and the boxes were a match for this request as well. To take it a step further, we used the boxes’ inside for the sustainability cause with copy that encourages users to reuse the containers or recycle them properly.
For the containers, we first used the LCA guidelines to navigate through the original creation of our own containers from recycled sea plastics. Packaging of such production maintains its initial condition and can be reused over and over again. We created a full line of industrial design packaging, and proceeded with a factory in Athens to estimate all possible costs. We ruled out this option, mostly for logistic reasons; Ena Karo is a small brand and we did not want them to over invest in packaging and procedures at this stage. However, this solution is very promising and we’ll definitely explore it more in the future.
Knowing that large amounts of packaging cannot be recycled made us dive a bit deeper into this part of the product’s journey: what happens after use. Multi-material packaging cannot be easily separated by the user or processed and repurposed in the existing recycling systems. We kept our mind around this issue throughout the whole process. The proposal that won in this case was high-quality aluminium: a monomaterial packaging choice that fulfilled most of our requirements. Further investing in the packaging’s conscious afterlife and its reuse, we used labels that can be easily removed without leaving marks.
In order to enhance the secondary transportation of soaps from Tinos to all selling points, and according to the LCA guidelines, we worked together with the brand to reach a new standard for the soap shape: perfect square, instead of rectangular or round. We wanted the products efficiently packed in larger boxes leaving no gaps of air in between. It may seem like a detail, but even a small amount of free space inside a big delivery box means more boxes being shipped for the same amount of products. With the new shape, the soap boxes fit each other nicely and match the proportions of other products’ packaging.
Of course, the challenges did not stop there. Since some of the body oils came with dispensers, and this was actually the optimal way to use the product, we made the choice of dispensers being sold separately: the consumer buys it once and forever, saving both space and unnecessary plastic in future purchases.
Once we chose all containers, we wanted to make sure that the containers are watertight so we tested all of them repeatedly. In this way, we are certain that the product is safe and there won’t be any need for stickers, seals or other extra materials.
Overall, by incorporating the LCA methodology in our design process and considering a sustainable option in every phase of the production was challenging and shifted our perspective and way of thinking.
Throughout this project we collaborated with Luka Kenter, Food Innovation intern, specialising in sustainable design.