Dear reader,

Let me introduce myself. I’m Marlot, the CSR Manager at Ace & Tate. Since the 1960s, Corporate Social Responsibility has been a practice that has shifted from donating to charity, to more proactive attempts to drive meaningful change, like those we are working on at Ace & Tate right now. It’s my job to keep all our sustainability efforts in sight and on track.

In this post, I’ll be sharing how we redesigned our packaging with both new and old materials. The data had shown us that our packaging had to be our #1 priority when it comes to environmental impact (you can dig into our previous post if you’re keen to put your company’s impact into numbers, too).

I didn’t just jump into my role. Having joined Ace & Tate in 2015, I’ve seen my fair share of product development, production, quality control and dealing with supply chain reshuffles as a Sourcing Manager. The most impactful experiences I had in that role took place whilst on factory visits. I saw how in the milling process alone 80% of acetate is wasted (milling is the machinal, precision removal of material until it has the desired shape — in this case: until the shape of your frame is reached). Honestly, that figure hurt. I knew I had stepped into a lagging industry; there had been little or no attempt to up the manufacturing and materials game.

As our CEO, Mark de Lange, explained in a previous post we set a baseline of our company’s impact to measure our progress against. With packaging making up 50% of our total footprint, it became crystal clear: we had to remove any unnecessary packaging and redesign the eyewear case.

Sustainable design is a tough nut to crack. So, if you ever find yourself having to redesign anything in the light of becoming more sustainable, I have some recommendations: make your goals clear, workable, and measurable. Oh, and say yes to everyone who wants to be involved.

I first sat with the Design team to decide what our focus would be. You might be familiar with the three Rs: reducing, reusing and recycling. In our team, we use it as a compass that guides tough decisions.

Basically, we picked waste — or rather: no waste.

Below are our humble design principles for packaging, where protection and functionality take the lead. Who knows, they may come in handy for you.
 
1. Reduce and eliminate all packaging that’s not functional
2. Re-use and swap single-use for multiple-use packaging
3. Recycle: find waste or surplus materials from other value chains to feed our
 packaging, and reduce the material complexity to simplify recycling after use

We’re obviously not the only ones exploring new ground. There are great people out there with a similar mission to change how we use materials. A friend of Ace & Tate, Seetal Solanki, the founder of Studio Matter, is one of those people. She says that if you put materials at the forefront of your design process, you’re likely to get a much more considered and much more sustainable product.

When you’re done here, you might want to check out our interview with Seetal for Dutch Design Week.

So, here’s what we’re using to make stuff:

Even though we have some principles in place, that doesn’t mean we’re done. Actually, each time we place a new packaging order, we’re reminded as a team to keep pushing so that we can take it further.

We faced a total of five initial challenges: our glasses case, the box around that same case, our cleaning cloth, the cotton tote bag, and our paper bags.

Our glasses case was a harmful metal and oil-based polyurethane one, then put into a box of bleached paper. We redesigned the case to be a protective, metal-free pouch made from water-based polyurethane. We’re currently looking into a single material case for easy recycling.

Inside the case, you’ll find your glasses hugged by a cleaning cloth. Exactly, the one you tend to lose or forget when it rains. Again, our first was made out of microfiber, followed by a recyclable version made out of PET. Today, the cloth is made out of recycled PET. Next up you’ll see a biodegradable material because washing the cloth still leads to the discharge of microplastics into our water cycle.

Here’s an overview of the improvements so far, and a peek into future initiatives:

More learning, I hope. The crucial lesson so far in my work is to be totally transparent in all communications towards our team, our partners and our customers. In the beginning, I was very much focused on quantifiable results but was quick to learn how every step along this journey is an outcome worth sharing, too.

Until that time, I am happy to receive any suggestions, questions or feedback. You can reach me at workingonit@aceandtate.com and follow We’re working on it on Medium to stay updated.

I’ll keep telling my tales here — both the good and the bad.

Speak soon,

Marlot


For the new readers, welcome. You’ve landed on We are working on it, a platform dedicated to openness and self-reflection where we share our journey as we work hard to become a less harmful company.

In our upcoming We’re Working On It-post, we’ll share how we’ve built our network of factories, why we produce both in Italy and Asia and what it takes to actually know what’s going on for workers in places far away from home. To you, these workers are invisible. To us, they are indispensable.