How Allbirds, Patagonia, and Reformation Choose Their Sustainability Priorities

December 10, 2019

Many companies want to make more sustainable packaging choices but they don't know where to start. The good news is, there's not one right way to be a more sustainable company. The bad news is, that leaves a lot of options, and can lead to analysis paralysis as you try to decide what is "good enough". 

We created Sustainability Properties to help you navigate your packaging choices and balance the tradeoffs.

The growing list of Lumi Sustainability Properties form a toolkit of data-backed strategies. Each one can help you cut down on emissions by choosing more efficient materials, factories, distribution, or recovery. 

Here's how to use the properties to prioritize sustainable packaging:

  1. Meet with your team and stakeholders to choose three sustainability properties that align most with your products and company mission
  2. Rank the three priorities to help weigh your packaging budget and make big decisions more quickly

It matters in which order you rank the priorities because they are not always 100% compatible with each other. Knowing which one is most important to you helps you make decisions more quickly.

We studied seven sustainably minded companies' packaging to see how it aligns with their sustainability missions.

“If you use virgin plastic, you make it cheaper. But that's not what we want to do.”

Recycled content Rothy's signature shoes are made from used water bottles — they couldn't exist without recycling. Rothy's boxes are made from 85% post-consumer recycled materials. The ribbons that seal their boxes are made from recycled materials too.

Curbside recyclable Recovery is also key for Rothy’s. After customers are done with the box, it’s curbside recyclable. Bonus points: It’s also returnable. With the addition of an added adhesive strip, customers don’t have to use additional packaging or adhesives to ship it back.

Volume reduction Let’s step back for a second and note one thing that’s missing — a second box. On the Lumi podcast, President Kerry Cooper explained how many shoe brands ship a traditional rigid shoe box inside of a shipper box, but Rothy’s skips the extra layer to cut down on waste and material usage.

Plastic-free Reading through the Reformation Sustainable Practices, it’s clear that plastic is not even an option. Their hangers are made from recycled paper and even their office pens are made from recycled tires, so it’s no surprise that their packaging is plastic-free. 

Compostable The clear peel and seal bags that protect the garments from production through storage and fulfillment are made from a vegetable-based, compostable material.

Recycled content Much of Reformation's sustainability focus is on the manufacturing part of the supply chain. Whenever possible, they use recycled content from deadstock and vintage fabrics. The Ref team has also put a lot of thought into apparel recyclability by partnering with resale marketplaces like Depop and ThredUp. It makes sense that their kraft mailers, boxes, and paper are all made from recycled materials that are also recyclable.

“The impact of having to recycle a full garment versus the impact of making a poly bag — there's no contest.”

Volume reduction In 2014, Patagonia did a test to see if they could remove plastic from their packaging. Unfortunately, 30% of the products were damaged before reaching the packaging station. In the end, they chose poly mailers for their durability. On the Lumi podcast, Nellie Cohen explains how damaged products aren’t just bad for business, they require two extra trips: a return trip from the customer to Patagonia (presumably in a new piece of packaging), and another trip back to the customer. That triples the transit emissions of that item. 

Patagonia decided to make volume reduction a priority as a way to use less plastic. They were already shipping in poly mailers made from a thinner plastic (2.5 mm thick, down from 3.5mm), and after this study, they started folding clothes smaller so they could use smaller bags. Smaller, thinner bags = less plastic. 

Recycled content is also a huge priority for Patagonia. As they move toward 100% renewable and recycled raw materials in their products, they’re doing the same with their packaging. In 2020, they will fully convert to bags made from 100% recycled material. 

Dropoff recyclability. No matter what you ship in, it’s important to tell your customers the right way to dispose of it. Patagonia doesn’t hide the fact that poly mailers are tricky to recycle curbside and they provide resources for dropping off the bags. In recycling plants, these film-based bags pile up and stall out sorting machines at recycling plants, so proper disposal is key. 

    Certified wood Allbirds has a unique dedication to material sourcing for their shoes, and that goes for their packaging too. Their boxes are made from paper that is certified by the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council). 

    Recycled content As part of their effort to go completely carbon neutral, the crafty Allbirds box is made using 90% post-consumer recycled material. And it's not just for shipping! They use it in retail locations with a rope handle for carrying. 

    Curbside recyclable Because they avoid shipping a rigid shoe box inside of a shipping box, Allbirds cites a 40% reduction in material.

      Plastic-Free Bite is on a mission to eliminate all of those unreyclable plastic toothpaste tubes from landfills, so it’s no surprise that their #1 biggest sustainability priority is staying plastic free. In fact, they have a whole page dedicated to it, so you can bet that there’s not a scrap of plastic anywhere in their packaging.

      Curbside recyclable On their Plastic-free page, they also list out the sustainable factors of each piece of their packaging, the most common across the board being Recyclable. Their boxes, envelopes and bottles can all be tossed in the blue bin. 

      Compostable Their refill packs come in a Compostable film pouch and their padded paper are also compostable. 

        “Backyard compostability is something where we feel like we're being true to the message that we're preaching in terms of, how you can have a no-impact experience very easily as a consumer?”

        Trade Coffee curates coffee selections from dozens of roasters. They send Trade branded packaging to the roasters, and the roasters ship out the coffee. With this business model, packaging is the part of their supply chain where their sustainability choices matter most.

        Volume reduction Their boxes were a perfect fit for most coffee bags (you can watch us unbox one here), so volume reduction in transit to customers was already fairly efficient, but they wanted it to be better. There are two legs of transit before the boxes are fulfilled and that’s where volume reduction can have a huge impact, which is why they recently made the switch to compostable bags instead. When they’re flat and stacked on a pallet, corrugated boxes take up 12 times more space than bags. Volume Reduction achievement unlocked! 

        Weight reduction In addition to taking up less space in trucks, the compostable film material is significantly lighter which lowers its impact in travel.

        Compostability Since coffee grounds and filters are faithful friends in a compost pile, compostability totally made sense as a second priority and their new bags fit the bill.

          “While there are definitely has been a lot of focus on single-use plastic water bottles and straws ... I think people are always surprised to pause and realize that so many of our other everyday products also come packaged in this plastic packaging.”

          Plastic-free Household cleaners are predominantly water, so Blueland is condensing them into tablets. First-time customers get a resilient plastic bottle that's meant to be used for years and years — just drop in the tablet with tap water and dissolve. Blueland is cutting down on household plastic usage through their business model and their packaging. Their unboxing is completely paper-based. 

          Volume reduction When you need new cleaner, your tablet refills are shipped in a small kraft mailer. Long term, the benefit of this is huge. Shipping new bottles of liquid versus shipping small mailers with tablets is volume reduction at its finest. Founder Sarah Paiji Yoo explains more about this on the Lumi podcast. 

          Compostability Those tablet refills come in little sachets that are fully compostable.

          Making truly impactful changes to the sustainability of your supply chain means making some big decisions and we're here to help! Each product in the Lumi Catalog has sustainability properties. Lumi members can let us know their priority ranking to guide decisions around sourcing and manufacturing.

          Innovative brands use Lumi to manage scalable and sustainable packaging.

          Learn more →