Is the solution to sustainable packaging looking back to materials we have used in the past?
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Welcome to sustainable packaging with Cory Connors I'm very excited and I've anticipated this for a very long time. My friend, Brandi Parker, who is the head of sustainability for Pearl Fisher. Welcome Brandi. How are you?Brandi Parker:
Thanks. Thank you so much, Cory . It's so good to be here. And I too have been anticipating this for awhile, so I'm glad we can finally make this time.Cory Connors:
I'm excited to hear about Pearl Fisher. Can you tell me about the great company you work for and what you guys do? ThanksBrandi Parker:
Cory . Yeah. So Pearl Fisher is you know, proudly independent. We're an independent brand and design consultancy. We were started in London back in the early nineties. And then the New York studio was created. Several years after that. So we've been around now. Gosh, almost 15 years. It's incredible. And then a couple of years ago we opened San Francisco and Copenhagen. And so now not only are we a fiercely independently owned design agency, but we have this global reach. So each individual. This is actually very small. We'd like to keep it to a certain size. We don't want to get too big. But we have this global reach. So it's something unique. We can offer clients and say, you know, you can work with an independent company. We're not owned by anybody else. Plus you get the global input and sometimes, you know, we use it for. Research, like we might call our, you know, compadres in Denmark and say, Hey, can you check out a few grocery stores? We're looking into this, how do we do it over there? It's like instant global feedback, which is pretty cool. And you know, it's, it's the kind of company. I've been a fan for a long time. I was a fan way before I started working here. And for me, it was about having my eyes set on getting here, but then working through other agencies to kind of get closer. And finally the day came that I got an interview and a. I couldn't have been happier. I was like, okay, awesome. And here we are eight years laterCory Connors:
and you're on your second job there as head of sustainability, head of a sustainability. That it's an awesome Reference point, I think to be able to understand that in different parts of the world, even in different parts of the country, as we know, things will be construed differently. And it's important that we get a global input and a national input into ideas. So that makesBrandi Parker:
a lot of sense. Absolutely. You know, diversity. People have a diversity of ideas, diversity of culture, all of that stuff is, is extremely important to the creative process. But I would say it's even more important to the future of sustainable design. You know, you mentioned I'm on my second role and January of this year. You know, is when we officially kicked off my role as head of sustainability. I was head of realization before. And for everybody out there, if you're familiar with production or the technical end of producing packaging design, that's what I was doing. I was you know, I'm a print expert. How about 20 years in the industry and, you know, understanding materials, manufacturing, all of that good stuff. With stuff that I've learned over time, in that role as head of realization. And I went to leadership and I said, look, I think there's an opportunity here for me to focus on. Something I'm extremely passionate about and bring this to our clients is new offers. And so they were like, yeah, do it. We believe in you. And it, it's just such a wonderful thing to have such a support. You know, being able to talk to the original partners that started the business that are still involved and have their direct support. I just, I can't imagine anywhere else.Cory Connors:
That's fantastic. And I I frankly was very surprised at the response I've gotten to this podcast. And I think, you know, I had high expectations and it exceeded it times 10. Sustainability is here, it's a focus, it's the present, it's the future. And so I think your role will continue to become a con. Place in companies. I hope your type of role. So I, certainly hope that this becomes more of a priority for every company.Brandi Parker:
I agree with that and, and that it becomes implementable on the side of design. You know, th th the empowerment of design, the power to change the world, the power to make a difference in terms of sustainability is undeniable. And so for, for a role like this, to be on the agency side, even if it was like client side, but somehow connected to design, I think that that's actually really, really important. Yes.Cory Connors:
Yeah, you guys have done. And you personally, and your team have done many, many things in the packaging world. But in, as for this show, we're excited about the sustainability things that you've done and accomplished. So we've got a lot to talk about. I'm excited about it. I want to get right into it. Can you tell us about the, the blue bottle coffee project and, and the, Oui yogurt projectBrandi Parker:
sure. Yeah. I mean, let's, let's go right into it. So when I joined pro Fisher back in 2013 I joined as the head of realization, which for Pearl Fisher, you know, this is more or less an elevated word for production director. But realization is all about. You know, something more, it's not just the end game. It's about being involved from the beginning. And both of those projects sort of highlight that kind of involvement from someone that has production expertise. So I was in the function as realization up until January of this year when I created this new role of head of sustainability for myself, But anyway, I digress. Let's go into those projects.Cory Connors:
I love that you created the role because it's such an important part of the world today.Brandi Parker:
You know, I, I believe it is. And, and let's circle back to that, but yeah, I think, I think there's a lot of momentum with the awareness and the collective consciousness, but agreed. So when I joined back in 2013, a team was in the midst of working with blue bottle coffee. And, you know, there was a lot about that brand that was still in its sort of infancy. They had existed before, but they'd just gone through a rebrand that pro Fisher helped them do and the coffee project. So this was your speaking specifically about the new Orleans iced coffee. A package and this was something that, you know, the owner of the company, James had a vision for, which was, I want to be putting out more sustainable packaging, especially in the single use space. So something like this, and also this was their first endeavor into the retail environment outside of their own coffee shops. So working on this project, you know, there was a lot of. Ideation around a new structure. What could we put this iced coffee? And we finally came to the conclusion actually, you know, the, the product itself has milk in it. That was a huge selling point is already premixed use. Open-ended. What if we took from the milk category, so an adjacent category and use the milk carton. Now that doesn't sound too groundbreaking now here, whatever it is, eight years on time flies. Right. But at the time blue bottle was the first to do it. And then brands like Stumptown and others started to, to iterate on that. And it's, it's a very You know, it's one of those solutions that's right under your nose. And if you're not looking for it but for us, it was not about reinventing the wheel. It wasn't about bringing in novel materials that. For all intents and purposes, small brand at the time may or may not be able to afford. So it was about an affordable solution that made sense. And in this case, a simple milk carton and you know, it's one of those things that's widely recycled, widely recyclable. It's, it's instantly recognizable. There's no new consumer ritual associated with it. You know how to open it, you know how to drink. Okay. So it, so it made a lot of sense and it made a really cute sort of single-serve beverage package.Cory Connors:
And it, you know, I love what you just said. I love the fact that you're not looking for some kind of unicorn. Material, you know, something new, something sparkly you know, we're going back to our roots. We're, we're going back to something that we all have a fond memory of. I mean, all of us have memories as a child of opening the milk carton at school or at home. And having that hopefully chocolate milk. Exactly.Brandi Parker:
Exactly. Yeah. So lunch chocolate milk. I can't believe I drank milk with like every, but we all did that, right? Yeah. Generation X.Cory Connors:
Right. We were told it was the only way to be healthy. Right.Brandi Parker:
Yeah, exactly. But I want to, I want to bring back to that comment that you just made, which was coming back to our roots. And I think that this, this very concept is powering my new research and my new work with the projects we're working on now, which is going back to materials that we relied on before the plastic revolution. Now something that I talk about a lot on my platform is not focusing on plastic as a singular sort of tunnel vision focus. Not that plastic isn't damaging, not that all the problems that exist don't exist, right. It's really about, let's make sure we keep our vision and our thinking wide and holistic, because as long as we're tunnel vision, We're repeating the same pattern of behavior that has gotten us to this point, which has never solving holistically and instead solving for things that are right in front of us, which has perpetuated all this waste, which has perpetuated all of this problem that we're in now. But my point is, is by focusing on materials and the pre plastic revolution, we find some really amazing gems, like. Cellulose. Yes. Right? Yes. It's making a huge comeback as a base level material in all kinds of applications, but this is something that's been around since, you know, the twenties or thirties . And the thing about cellulose as a film. Cellulose is a barrier layer. There's a lot of imperfections about it. It certainly doesn't replace plastic one-to-one, but there is some amazing advancements being made in the technology. Not to say that our project around blue bottle is this gigantic is bringing back cellulose, but it hits at the idea that there's a lot of ground we've already covered. Yeah. As an industry, as, as a discipline, and let's not hesitate to go back over that ground and comment for something that might be more applicable to us in the 21st century. So.Cory Connors:
Totally agree, a hundred percent. Absolutely. And that goes right into your next creative innovation or re innovation which is the Wiegert you went with one of my favorite materials, glass.Brandi Parker:
Yeah, the glass, you know, glass. It's funny. I, I might not have guessed that glass would be a controversial material. But there, there are a lot of reasons it's controversial at the moment. However that, that aside, you know, the, the we project was one in the long line of projects we were doing for general mills with the yo play brand, which they sort of own state side. And we had done a redesign of the whole portfolio and we were moving the brand away from artificial into something more natural. And so the, we sub brand came to life as something that was supposed to hearken back again to another. The French countryside, the way that they make yogurt, where yo play came from originally. And there was a lot about that project that at first glance was it's, it's an extension project. It's like, let's take yo play into this new brand, but at the time we were working on it, we saw it as a bigger opportunity and early on, and again, this was, you know, myself and my team is realization and. At the briefing. So at the very beginning of the project, never be afraid to have your technical folks sitting at the briefing. It's a good idea, right? There's there's often creative problem solving that can happen, you know, by that team, if you give them the opportunity. But in this case, we were there and the client was already looking at glass. So let me give credit to general mills. They were already considering it. However, they also had on the table. You know, you're one of the middle of thermoform plastic container and there were a lot of reasons to consider. Either or both of them and the original instinct was okay, maybe we launched it in glass, but then we see how the brand does. And then maybe we move back into plastic. The other consideration was the way that the yogurt was made. It's it's by a process called pot setting. So it's where the yogurt actually sort of becomes yogurt in the package . Oh, wow. So, yeah. Yeah, it's fascinating. Like there's all of this process behind, behind the scene, but the glass really was functioning best in the test with the pots setting. Although the plastic was again, still a consideration. Yeah, we push real hard for the glass. From a design standpoint, most of our concepts featured glass as a visual showing that, you know, this would be the pure and sort of the clearest way to tell the story literally and figuratively. And obviously that went through and sorry, you were going to ask,Cory Connors:
oh, I was going to say the, the glass itself looks like a metal. So it's kind of got that like a cauldron kind of a feel to it, which is very interesting and unique. I like it.Brandi Parker:
It's got a very. Cute shape. Yep. But what happened when we actually launched that project is, is actually incredible. And from a sustainability standpoint, this is one of those things that you dream about happening, but you, you can't plan for it, which is considered. Absolutely love the brand. Obviously the yogurt's delicious, it's great quality ingredients, all that good stuff. But people took to these little pots. They're so cute. There were all of these like Instagram posts and Pinterest boards and all of this stuff of people reusing the jars, showing it off as an arts and crafts thing. To such a point that general mills started selling reclosable lids for these jars, so people could reuse them. So it started a new revenue stream for them, but, but what's fantastic is obviously design plays a huge role in that. And our design is beautiful and in a way timeless and hopefully, you know, sticks around for a long time, but it's really the consumers that jumped in and. I started reusing it, repurposing it. And honestly, that's the best story. You know, if something can't be recycled or not recycled easily, then reuse and repurposing are just, just as valid . If not more so totallyCory Connors:
agree. And we love seeing things reused and repurposed. I remember the first time I saw those, I was very, very impressed and thought, okay, that's a game changer. So well done. Kudos.Brandi Parker:
Thank you. Yeah. I mean, the team on that are amazingly talented humans. Pearl Fisher is full of them. But you know, what I'm really impressed with is it's still on the. Yeah, the design intent has stayed true, and people still, people still love it and they buy it because of the structure because of the packaging. And we, you know, we know the power of design and honestly, to sort of take it back here. Yeah. You know, that's what inspired me to create this role is because. Sustainability is a role on the agency side is, is pretty new. Especially for us, this is our first, you know, version of it. Yeah. But really what motivated me was knowing the power of design in changing the, game in, in pushing the realm of sustainability forward. Because at the end of the day, if you can make something desirable and good for us in the planet, then it's a win-win for everybody and designers have the power to do that. So, you know, working from that angle just. It just makes sense. And when I talk to companies, when I talk to our clients and sustainability maybe is a little bit deforest or it's removed from the branding or marketing process, you know, it's a miss . Right. Sustainability, like realization in my experience, looking through the lens of sustainability should be present through every step of any process. And, and so that's, that's something that we're striving for with this role. And for me, you know, I would love to see this role, you know, start to be more prevalent in the agency world, because we all need to be thinking this way. It's, it's now becoming tables.Cory Connors:
Yes, absolutely. And I think, like you said, companies are trying to figure out how do they accomplish this? Do they, do they hire consultants? Do they, do they put someone really educated like yourself in, in a, in a new role? Because Sustainability is a, it's a, , it's a new avenue. Right. But it's totally necessary. And totally it's something many companies have been doing for years without knowing it. And, and now many companies are going to be required. With extended producer responsibility coming to fruition. And honestly, a lot of companies are adopting that without laws, which is really impressive. I see a lot of really cool ideas, you know, by 2025, by 2030, we're going to do this. We're going to do that. So companies like yours and ours are we're going to be busy taking care of these people.Brandi Parker:
Yeah. I mean, you know my thought is. We have the power. Now we have the technology now, right? The technology that I've been tracking for personally for the last five years is real. Now there's real solutions out there. And all of that is stuff we can take advantage of now because technology actually evolves faster than human behavior. Yeah. And so what, what we have the opportunity to do is use novel materials. Use technologies, use sustainable paths, pathways in packaging to help train people into the future, because it's going to take a long time for humans to shift their behavior. You know, just looking at. For example, right now I'm in south Arkansas. This is where my family is from. I work in New York, but I'm here because of, of the pandemic, but being in a more rural context, seeing the difference in how you recycle things. If I want to recycle things, which I do, I have to put it in my car and drive. There's no curbside pickup here anywhere in town. And shifting behavior, you know, It's it's taking me a while to learn. I can't just pop it out to the curb. Like I did in New York. Like I've got to, I've got to drive it. And, and this is a process that's a very stupid and simple example, but you know, getting people to learn how to use bulk and refill and non packaging. Expressions of products that are popping up all over the country. Some people take right to it, but a lot of people would take some, some, some major behavioral shifts. So we have the power now to start training people for the future.Cory Connors:
And that's a, that's a perfect word. I think you're exactly right. People don't know what. They they don't know they want to be sustainable. I talked to people all day, you know, I'm active on social media and people are asking me, well, how do I do it? Well, you need to research it. You, you have to be the first there's companies like Recyclops and Ridwell well that are leading the charge in these, in these communities like yours, where there's no recycling, they'll say. If you you've, you in 99 of your closest friends in the area can, can sign up. We can help you. And you know, do that 10 times and 10 more times and a hundred more times. And all of a sudden we're making major differences. So well,Brandi Parker:
Yeah, thanks. I mean, you know, but let me also say that. I don't think the future of us getting ourselves out of this mess out of climate change, making a real change in packaging is really based on recycling. I don't believe that's our future actually, but. It's what we have now, even in it's sort of broken state you know, there are waste streams that it works really well for the paperweight stream, the most recycled, most widely recycled thing in the world. Aluminum kind of a distance second, and then everything else falls apart from there. So I think let's, let's use what we have now. It's certainly a fine. But I believe the future isn't based on recycling at all. I think it's, it's about truly mimicking the system of. Which is perfect and there is no waste. And I think it looks more like that.Cory Connors:
So more, more circular, more reusable or more biodegradable compostable.Brandi Parker:
I think all of those things, I think all of those things. Yeah. I think something that doesn't necessarily all depend on a wobbly infrastructure, something that, you know, we have more control of as individuals, which is the biological metabolism, which is safely returning to earth via degradability compostability, et cetera. I think that's a big one. It's not the only one, you know, I think things like aluminum will still make sense to recycle. I think that there's a lot of reasons to stay with that. I just don't think it's our core. Focus. I think, I think circularity is, is the answer, but a lot of people assume circularity hinges on recyclability and I disagree you know, circularity in various forms. And I think the more forms that we identify, the more successful we can possibly be as you know, as.Cory Connors:
I agree with that circularity. Isn't just recycling. It's reuse. It's it's biodegradation, it's compostability. It's it's all the ways that we can take something and not put it in a hole at the end where it's, where it can never be used again or turned into something viable. Yeah, well said that's a, I haven't heard anybody put it into those contexts before, but I totally agree. A hundredBrandi Parker:
percent. Yeah. Yeah. I, I, you know, it's, it's something that we've been talking about for a while, but it's one of those things where. You know, depending on the audience, they're receptive to the idea or not, you know, we're for example, at pro Fisher we're members of the SPC, a fantastic organization, the sustainable packaging coalition. And, you know, I think for a lot of very practical reasons, you know, groups within that organization are very much focused on, can we get to chemical recycling? Can we get to these other things? Fine. Let's, let's find out because I certainly, I'm not smarter than those chemical scientists, but let's also make sure we're, we're more widely focused. Let's make sure that we're looking at all of the possibilities. And you know, I think, I think being members of coalitions like that allow for you to sort of have these healthy debates, talk to other, you know, people in the, in the industry and have conversations.Cory Connors:
The people are, in my opinion, really helping each other more than I've ever seen in my career. You know, when I reach out to someone and say, Hey, can you tell me about this? Can you, can you explain this to me? I want to be more knowledgeable about your product or your concept here. I'm getting responses like, yeah. When can you talk, do you have time today? It's like, instead of where it used to be. Buzz off kid, you know I'm busy. It's, it's an amazing ecosystem of people working together to, to help the sustainability movement. Move forward.Brandi Parker:
Absolutely. And I'm so thankful for that because I've learned what I've learned about any of this stuff on the job by talking to vendors and suppliers. I have been working with, by talking through, you know, packaging engineers on the client side. I've learned what I've learned because people help me. And so to perpetuate that I think is fantastic. And, you know, another outlet, something that I'm also passionate about is education. So talking to students far, too many students are coming out of school in some kind of packaging discipline, whether it's design, whether it's supply chain, whatever it is, kids are coming out of school. And they don't understand so many sort of nuances about how packaging is made, what goes into it, especially design students, you know, a lot of them don't even really understand printing when they come out of school. And that is, that is a big miss in a, in a terrible shame. So as a result, I've been putting a lot of effort and time into education. I spent a couple of years as an adjunct at fit in NewCory Connors:
York city. Oh really? Yup. What's fit,Brandi Parker:
Fashion Institute of technology.Cory Connors:
Yeah, they're, they're fantastic there. And I still work with them as a guest lecturer. I recently got on the board at California Polytechnic Institute of another fantastic school. They have a very amazing program. That's very much focused on supply chain manufacturing. They're there in the weeds of technicality. So, you know, serving on the board there, you know, the future of packaging is something that I'm passionate about, but more importantly, the future. People rightCory Connors:
packaging. I love that sentiment. I get people, as you know, I'm very active on Tik TOK and I'll often times I'll have packaging students connect with me on there and say, I love your content. I've learned so much from your Tik TOK videos. And I always say, let me know how I can help in any, any way in the future so that you can learn about sustainable packaging, because it's like you said, those are the people that are going to. The Baton from us in, you know, and whenever we retire and, and move it forward and keep it going.Brandi Parker:
So, yeah, that's fantastic. And I don't know how you have the time or energy for Tiktok . That is one platform I haven't even ventured on. I sound like an old lady, but I'm like, no, that might be a step too far for me, but I'm so glad that you canCory Connors:
do it. This isBrandi Parker:
a very popular one.Cory Connors:
I wouldn't have had time if it wasn't for the pandemic, I'll be honest. I, you know, I just wouldn't have had time or it wouldn't have made time. Right. And I was listening to a Gary V book and it's like, you know, I can do this, I'll try it. And you know, here I am a thousand videos later and yeah, it's well, there's, there's so many different things to talk about with packaging. It's.Brandi Parker:
It's it's endless, you know another thing I talk about a lot is how packaging is, is a true multidisciplinary form. You know, I think a lot of industries really are, but especially packaging. Where else do you see this intersection of art and design and science? And, and, and wellbeing and health of a population, right? So much about food packaging is about protecting people. And so it's, it's the intersection of all these disciplines in this really miraculous and fascinating way that I think. Especially students don't really appreciate. But all the more reason to have such a diversity of people at the table to have these conversations. Right. And like I said, it's, it's empowering too, to be on this end of creation. And you know, when you got all these minds together in a room, you can make some really amazing stuff happen.Cory Connors:
I totally agree. I always say that packaging is the biggest industry that nobody thinks about because unless we, unless we did a bad job or a really great job, then, then we get coverage, you know?Brandi Parker:
Absolutely. I mean, I entered the industry by accident. I didn't know. It was a thing I'd never thought. Second about design in the packaging realm. I don't know what I thought happened. That it just mysteriously here. Like, look, here's your Poland spring water bottle? No obviously that's not the case, but you know, having been in this industry now about 20 years, I can tell you I'm learning something new about what we do everyday.Cory Connors:
Absolutely. And I'm, I'm excited to see what you and Pearl Fisher accomplish in the future. You know, like I can't wait to see your next project. It's you guys are always creating a buzz and it's really cool. So I appreciate that. Yeah. So what's the best way for the audience to get ahold of you and your.Brandi Parker:
You know, I, I think that there's a lot of ways. Obviously I think our website is, is a quick one. So Pearlfisher.com . There's no C in Pearl Fisher, by the way, folks fish like F I S H a pro fisher.com. There's a lot of ways to get in touch there. I'm also very active on LinkedIn. You can seek me out Brandy Parker. Pretty easy to find. I think those are probably the two most immediate and easiest ways to get ahold of.Cory Connors:
Great. Well, hopefully we can do a part two to this you know, in the next six months or so. I'd love to hear what you guys have going on. And I want to thank our sponsor Landsberg ORORA for your continued support and you know, as audience members, please rate this podcast, tell your friends about it. We want to continue to grow the sustainable packaging movement. Thank you so much, Brandi . Appreciate you.Brandi Parker:
Thanks Cory . Have a good one. You too.