Is your packaging really fit for company purpose? Could you be saving more money and time?

A concept by Robert McEwan

Last week, I went into a high street coffee shop (which for the want of good relations will remain nameless), and ordered my usual beverage in a size “large”. I was then handed the requested beverage done to perfection but double cupped.

“Why”, I asked the barista, “did I need it double-cupped?”

“Oh, the cups are rubbish and one cup is too flimsy. Customers burn their fingers” he replied.

This makes absolutely no environmental, functional, cost or branding sense. We have to ask whether there’s a point where down-gauging of packaging takes things a step too far. Have we got to the stage where packaging waste is increasing not decreasing since the primary function the packaging is meant to perform is invalidated by the packaging itself and how people use it? Ultimately, it therefore becomes no longer fit for the purpose for which it was intended. In this instance, the staff member took it upon himself to fudge the system by giving me two cups thus doubling packaging waste in one fell swoop.

When does thinner or lighter become more expensive and less workable? When does the exercise become a false economy both in terms of cost and packaging waste? Are companies that are (rightly) striving to become more “environmentally friendly” being blinded to the real world and duped by what actually happens in store? Using two cups instead of one surely can’t benefit anyone in the chain.

Now, I am absolutely for the development of technologies that preserve and reduce the demand on global natural resources; lighter, thinner, faster etc. Yet in both my personal and professional experience, there are still too many instances in both b2b and b2c organisations where companies don’t take due consideration of the environmental effect of their packaging and how it’s used. Their aim is to save both money and environmental impact by down-gauging is sensible all round. But, how far is too far when the effect is to end up creating the opposite result to the one intended?

On my same trip to my local shopping mall, I also wanted to purchase a mobile broadband WiFi from a well-known mobile phone supplier. As I walked into the shop, I found the product I was looking for, liked the price and the performance it promised so decided to buy it. When the product was taken from the back of the shop displayed in a whole lot of packaging, the further irony of what organisations are trying, but failing, to achieve hit home. The product weighed 111g and I had decided I was going to buy it solely on what the product did and its price (I hadn’t seen any packaging at this stage). However, the packaging alone weighed 175g! – More than the weight of my purchase.

Now I believe that core role of packaging is to achieve 2 main objectives (and I do accept that this does vary by company, product and market) : –


My coffee cup did not protect the consumer. “Customers burn their fingers” (By the way even with 2 cups I still needed a cardboard sleeve to protect my “delicate hands”!)

The coffee cup didn’t protect the product, “the cup is rubbish and one cup is too flimsy” shows that the product i.e. the coffee, wasn’t protected by the packaging.

The mobile broadband could been have been thrown across the room against a wall and it would have still been protected.


The coffee cup was branded suitably. I (and everyone that cared to look at what I had in my hand) knew where I had purchased my coffee.

The mobile broadband was colourful and eye-catching and told me what it did and what it was. However, I made my decision to buy the product without seeing the packaging.

I know I am talking about consumer products here, but, to some extent, the same goes for industrial packaging. Is it doing the job for which it was intended?

What’s my ultimate message? It’s simply this. When designing product packaging, think about whether you’re doing the right thing for functionality, for your customers, for your business and the environment and make sure its fit for purpose on all 4 levels.

Blog by Robert McEwan, to contact Robert to discuss any of this blog, please email him

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