Jul72010

Sustainable Packaging, The Distant Village Way

Rich Cohen With ArtisansDistant Village designs beautiful handmade sustainable packaging. We create packaging to help our clients build strong brand identity and communicate an authentic sustainable position.

A lot of people ask “what does SUSTAINABLE really mean?!?! I mean, how do you define it?” There are as many opinions as there are experts. When creating Distant Village in 2000, I carefully thought about this important question because sustainability is the lifeblood and foundation of the company.

This is our view of authentic and sincere sustainability.

Sustainability is a journey. What I mean is, although no products are 100% sustainable, a truly sustainable company must demonstrate a proven and sincere commitment to serving the world with the best possible sustainable solutions. Sustainably-committed companies continuously work hard at improving their sustainability footprint with the same passion as driving business.

People and Community must be a priority. Starting first with people and communities, we believe sustainable products must not simply contribute to society, but rather significantly improve society (check out the video). Sustainable products must go beyond the residual social benefits derived from using eco-friendly materials to what I call authentic “good Samaritan” community support.

In terms of society, every piece of Distant Village packaging is produced under fair trade practices. That means people are paid living wages, and given fair, safe, and clean working conditions. I believe it’s a natural human instinct to help others in need. That is why we have a scholarship program for children within the needy communities we work with. And I am constantly inspired when I see our clients and individuals also help! I personally have witnessed the life-changing impact a few hundred dollars can do. We also have volunteer-based community support teams, fellowship events, and disaster relief support.

I guess at this point, some of you may be saying, “What about the eco-materials and carbon footprint? That’s the most important aspect of sustainability!” Practically every material we use comes from abundant and renewable natural resources such as coconuts, Manila hemp, wild grass, pineapple leaves, banana fiber, as well as invasive plant species such as mulberry and water hyacinth. If and when we must utilize conventional manufactured resources, we use the most eco-friendly alternatives available such as recycled boxboard and tree-free labels. By using mostly hand-made production processes (like hand assembly and sun-dried paper), the carbon footprint from the manufacturing and conversion process is tiny compared to packaging manufactured by other companies.

Finally, I realize there is a carbon emission concern as we are making items in remote villages and then transporting them overseas, but the transport leg via massive ocean-going container ships is one of the most efficient transit legs for a product (if you really care to reduce your carbon footprint, the trip to the store to buy one gallon of milk is the real killer). What gets lost in carbon footprint math is the “good Samaritan” idea – what is the value of helping another person or community in need? Is the carbon footprint offset by the social footprint? It would be interesting to measure the social footprint.

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