Sense and Sustainability: The key takeaways from Pentawards Spring Festival 2022

The recent Spring Festival was dedicated to exploring the five senses and packaging design

Jennifer Clements

Marketing Manager Pentawards


We recently hosted our latest digital Spring Festival dedicated to exploring the five senses and packaging design. Keynote speakers and design experts from around the world shared their perspectives on topics as varied as drawing on the five senses to create emotional connections through packaging, to how innovation in sustainability can add to the sensorial experience of a pack.

Many insights and trends were explored - from plastic packaging alternatives to creating a truly memorable customer experience through sustainable design. Here are some of the key learnings and take-aways for brands and designers integrating sustainable approaches into their work that were discussed in the festival.

Decoding Sustainability

The climate crisis is transforming the packaging landscape through the explosion of material substrate innovation and the ambition to achieve circular solutions. Mike Webster, Director of 3D Structure & Experience at global branding and design agency 1HQ, explored the emergence of new sensorial codes for sustainability and how these are impacting our perceptions and experiences of packaging.

Sustainability has moved from activist campaigns to a mainstream concern, which has encouraged material innovation that could be biodegradable and reusable

Mike Webster, Director of 3D Structure & Experience at global branding and design agency 1HQ

“Sustainability has moved from activist campaigns to a mainstream concern, which has encouraged material innovation that could be biodegradable and reusable. But this causes a lot of challenges as we don’t know which of these are truly sustainable. The reality is a lot of the material options out there are not actually sustainable. It’s perception versus reality”, Webster said during his presentation.

So what could be done from a packaging design point of view to help consumers and designers navigate the increasing number of sustainable options? Webster continued to explain that semiotics and codes could help us decide the category and understand what’s really happening. Interestingly, he categorised the codes into three sections:

●      Residual (the past) - These are the cues from the past when the main goal was manufactured perfection and optimisation of the supply chain, so packaging looked very similar and industrial.

●      Dominant (present) - With plastic rejection and working against industrialisation, brands and manufacturers’ aim is to not do any further harm with their products. For example, they are switching to cardboard bottles, refillable options or upcycle ocean waste. At this stage, creativity becomes the currency that consumers are valuing.

●      Emergent (the future) - However, what we need to focus our efforts on are the future codes and creating nature-tech symbiosis. There is a growing realisation that we are not doing enough. There is a gap between promises and policies, intentions, and actions. Brands must do more to help people make the lifestyle changes required.

At Pentawards, we’re seeing that more dominant codes are coming up in recent award entries and most case studies highlight innovative packaging designs through the reuse of materials such as ocean plastic. It’s clear that packaging design needs to move away from passive aesthetic to an informative value-added tool that enhances consumers’ experiences.

Functional Sustainability

We are entering a new era of economic and climate challenges, where real ‘value’ has become about social responsibility and ecological awareness. Consumers search for meaning and transparency from the brands they interact with, and, in turn, packaging is shifting towards functional design that incorporates sustainability.

Vincent Tavernier, Packaging Solutions Manager at UPM Raflatac, one of the world’s leading producers of self-adhesive label materials, talked us through the company’s sustainable product portfolio that supports a circular economy and mitigates climate change. From smart choice icons (reduce, recycle, reuse) that can educate consumers to the industry’s first wood-based label material that could reduce carbon footprint with up to 63%, UPM is helping brands make the conscious choice to become sustainable.

In the joint session, Lisa Belgacimi, QHSE and Production Coordinator, and Cécile Bernhard, Operations Manager at Maison Lillet (Pernod Ricard Group) highlighted how small changes can have a huge impact. For instance, Maison Lillet has begun using 35% recycled glass in their bottles and has reduced the weight of the product, which has resulted in reduced carbon footprint by 21% per bottle manufactured. Another example of functional design, mentioned by Webster, is the refillable perfumes by Louis Vuitton, where packaging has turned into a service and customers have enhanced in-store experience, when they go to refill their perfume bottles with a new scent.

Sustainability and the sixth sense

The emergence of sustainable options - from biodegradable materials to edible packaging, is a golden opportunity for designers to create more emotional meaning and connect with consumers on a deeper level. Spencer Buck, Founder & CCO at independent design agency Taxi Studio, revealed that the future-proofed method of creating that memorable relationship is tapping into your sixth sense and trusting your gut feeling.

Every encounter that people have with a brand - whether that’s packaging design or your sustainability webpage, needs to provoke an emotion through the senses. He encouraged brands and designers to think about texture, smell, sound as well as visual appearance and reminded us that behind every single sense is an opportunity to create consumer experience. Buck also shared his insight on what qualities brands need to be in order to be disruptive in this area:

❖    Distinctive

❖    Memorable

❖    Campaignable

❖    Ownable

❖    Relevant

Buck also expressed how logic - despite being a crucial part of approaching something as serious as climate change - can become the enemy of creativity. Instead, he championed the ever-increasing importance of visionary thinking for brands by tapping into their intuition during the creative process.

While we will always need the power of logic and reason to help develop new materials and approaches to become more sustainable, it is that elusive, creative ‘magic’ that continues to inspire and surprise us at Pentawards year after year. If anything, our Spring Festival reassured us that despite still having a long way to go to help beat climate change, innovation and creativity within the packaging design sector is buoyant - and here to stay.

Guest Author

Jennifer Clements

Marketing Manager Pentawards


Jennifer Clements is Marketing Manager at Pentawards. Jennifer joined the Pentawards team in March 2020, having previously worked in international events and leading creative competitions. She has also worked at WWF-UK for three years on a large-scale public-facing campaign, building her knowledge of the importance of sustainability in business and consumers' lives. Jennifer has a wealth of experience across various industries, including Competitions, Events, Branding, Marketing and Project Management.

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