Natured is the title of a project for my MFA course Communication Design in my program Design for Social Innovation. The client for this project was a tech company whose product is a completely sustainable PET plastic alternative. Their brief for us was to create a tool or system that gets people to care about where products come from, the provenance. My responsibilities for this project included competitive analysis, strategy, and interaction design. In response to the brief, my team and I developed a digital app, advertising campaign, and activation.
Problem: The amount of plastic produced and used today is not environmentally sustainable. Its source is from oil, a fossil fuel which is a resource we are running out of. Extraction, refining, processing, and manufacturing are all incredibly resource intensive and polluting. Food packaging is largely made from plastics as is polyester fabric, now the most produced fiber in the world. It's unrealistic for consumers to stop their demand of food packaging and polyester cold turkey, but we cannot as a society continue to demand as much plastic as we have been if we want to start reducing our environmental impact. Our client wanted our help to work on this issue by tasking us to get people to care about where things come from. If we can communicate about the origin, users can make smarter purchasing decisions, such as choosing products that use our clients packaging or fabric material that was made sustainably.
User: Our clients users are food packaging giants and clothing manufacturers, so we wanted to be mindful of that and those products' users. We completed primary research with industry experts from the innovation team at Pepsi Co. to board members of Greenpeace. We wanted to start by learning what has worked well in their experience about communicating about sustainability and where products come from. We also completed competitive audits of how other brands communicate about sustainability and provenance, such as Chiquita Banana, Lush, Good Guide, and Icebreaker.
Solution: We found that we needed to make a communication system with layers of information in order to ensure success. Our end users ranged from those who are unaware of the plastics problem, to those who considered themselves conscious consumers, to others who felt they had more expertise on plastics and the environment who wanted a lot of information. Given the nature of the information we needed to communicate, we felt that we would need to partner with a third party research institute in order to provide expertise and trust.
The first interaction a user would have with our system would be on the products they are buying, for example a bottle of Coke. Manufacturers who use sustainably made plastic would receive a certifying seal to put on their products. This seal would provide our first level of information, for users who do not yet understand the impact but understand that this product is better than products without the seal. The next level of information on the label would be a rating. We would not want manufacturers to be discouraged from participating in this system because they are not completely sustainable but also want to create incentive for them to continue to improve their packaging. On the label there would also be a call to action to learn more by downloading the app or visiting the webpage.
Users could also be introduced to our system through traditional advertising. For this we wanted to use a play on words of our name, "Natured." We combined titles such as "Mother Natured," "Good Natured," and "Force of Natured," to draw people in as they are paired with products you may not associate with nature. We then follow that with a nibble of information about why those products are "Natured" with the goal to spark interest in learning more and driving them to our website or app.
After making their way to our website or app, users to dive into the impact that products have on the environment. Through the app, users can scan the barcodes of products or use the search or browse function. Once on a product page, they can see the product, it's rating, and more detail about what went into that rating, the energy, water, and waste used to make that product, from raw material to final manufacturing. For example, our clients' products' raw material comes from agricultural and industrial waste streams, therefore they have a negative waste impact since they are diverting waste. Since users may not know what 34 kilowatts of energy or -30 pounds of waste means or if that is a good number or not, they'll be able to click through to compare it to the industry standard and a daily life comparison.
Results: Because this project was completed at a conceptual level, we were not able to measure impact. However, after presenting to our client, they were incredibly pleased and wanted to get feedback from their teams and from their manufacturing clients.