room44 innovates

What will drive you to innovate: motivation or incentive?

Attending industry events is a great way to see exactly where the hurdles to innovation are placed. We know the motivation and the will to affect real change are there at a personal level. But at a corporate level, not so much.

At a packaging industry event in London last week, I saw this demonstrated. Product packaging is notorious as an environmental polluter and as a consumer of natural resource. Visitors to the show were asked to contribute their thoughts to the Innovation Wall (see image). ‘As the industry, we need to lead the way’ and ‘we need to face the challenges of the future now’ are two examples. Recycling was still touted as the panacea to packaging’s environmental impact.

I spoke to packaging manufacturers on the day and, without exception, they said that the only feature of packaging their customers are interested in is the price. Reducing weight, thin-walling and recycling materials are all driven by a single incentive: cost.

These are customer demands, not consumer. And understand the difference: consumers pay the final price for a product that has had its value partially derived from material that goes straight into the bin. Not protective packaging in all cases, but packaging created in a bid to deliver perceived value over real consumer benefit. In a word, marketing. Having established the notion of added value, the task is to meet the profit requirements of retailer customers who provide a route to market for these items.

There is a chasm of understanding that sits between consumers, who want to see a reduction in environmental waste, and the packaging industry that focuses on customer requirement. I’ll quote again from a room44 blog from August (Can you innovate even if you wanted to?) where we quoted a senior executive who said of the plastic pollution issue so often under discussion, “Anyone with any common sense knows the only problem with plastic waste. It’s the morons who throw it away.”

The impact that packaging is having on our planet is catastrophic. Years after ‘reduce, re-use, recycle’ was launched as a strapline, the best we can find from packaging manufacturers is: ‘As an industry we need to lead the way.’

If the will really is there to lead the way, there is absolutely nothing stopping them. As a study in who needs to use Design Thinking as a design methodology, the packaging industry is a perfect case study. As a study in inertia, it’s almost unrivalled.

Of course, this is a huge generalisation. On the flip side of the argument, there are some examples in packaging of design thinking meeting great product design:

LUSH has been developing products that used zero packaging. Solidified liquids that are self-supporting: a retailer delivering against consumer demand. We found packaging company people who argued this simply couldn’t work because LUSH must sell so many more units to cover the cost of extended product life. Attitudinally, we see a retailer doing it and packaging guys rejecting the novelty.

Halo Coffee has seen the trend towards convenient coffee consumption and the disaster that laminated and unrecovered aluminium presents. New fully bio-degradable coffee capsules can do the same job as company branded products without the environmental on-cost. Look them up here


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