Inside Method’s Method of Design
Packaging design is a central focus of Method’s product development process. We take pride in designing beautiful, function-oriented and durable packaging. But how can the packaging design process be used to address the impact of producing millions of plastic bottles each year?
With impacts on energy use, carbon emissions, and downstream waste creation, how can we take a page out of “Cradle to Cradle” and make our packaging footprint a positive one?
Method’s focus on packaging design started early. In 2001, the co-founders Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan penned a “Hail Mary” email to Karim Rashid, one of the best-known and respected industrial designers in the world. They asked Rashid to redesign some of the world’s most ubiquitous products: dish soap, hand wash, and surface sprays. To their surprise, Rashid wrote them back. He came on as Method’s chief creative officer, tasking his studio with reinventing the mundane product forms found on grocery store shelves across the country.
Ten years later, design thrives at the center of Method’s organizational thinking and at the start of any product’s development lifecycle. Our product design team is now fully in house. Rapid prototyping machines, expanses of quickly evolving whiteboard space, and a culture that favors thinking out loud help us leverage this design process as our key to building remarkable products. Intuitive product forms, minimal graphic clutter, and clean, modern lines, have become
But how does this commitment to design help us in our pursuit of a positive footprint?
Method is most effective as an agent of positive change for sustainability when we use environmental innovations to make better products that change user perceptions and ultimately make our categories evolve. We find novel materials and product designs with embodied environmental benefit and use them to create better product experiences, more effective formulations, packaging that’s easier to use, and products that keep homes happy and healthy.
Relying on product sustainability as a platform for improved user experience is the conceptual opposite of conventional green product design, in which a solitary and peripheral green attribute is tacked onto an existing product. Think of bottled water “now with 5 percent less plastic” or of paper products harvested from clear-cut forests but “made using renewable energy.”
Our emphasis on the design process helps us focus our research lens on the packaging environmental profile at the start of the development process. We believe in a science-based approach to sustainability and use detailed technical research to deliver material environmental benefit. A prototype-packaging concept is reviewed by Method’s greenskeeping team by screening all materials for their health and environmental attributes and making sure no dirty ingredients are used.
A great tool in the design process is the COMPASS packaging design software from the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. Method’s packaging engineers, known internally as plastic surgeons, complete a COMPASS evaluation (a simplified rapid lifecycle assessment) as soon as a package concept is loosely defined. This allows us to quickly understand relative merits in terms of energy consumption, material use, GHG emissions, and other LCA outputs for multiple packaging designs. Knowing these environmental implications at the front end of the design process means we’re making informed decisions and points us squarely at where improvements are most meaningful.
Method recently introduced a line of surface cleaners bottled in 100 percent Post Consumer Recycled PET resin. This packaging change led to 71 percent lower carbon emissions and 84 percent lower energy use than using virgin plastic. Using PCR in high quality products also helps build valuable markets for plastics recyclers, giving much needed incentives to their development.
The bottle is high clarity, boasts excellent consistency in wall thickness (a big deal in the plastics-geek world), offers high resistance to cracking, and importantly to Method, the resin transparency allows the product color to really pop on the retail shelf.
While far from perfect (U.S. recycling statistics indicate that only ~ 20 percent of these bottles will be recycled at the end of their life), the greatly reduced resource use, the strengthening of the recycled plastic market, and the integration to beautiful, effective products, all contribute to a huge step towards making our packaging footprint a positive one.