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The Sustainable CMF Index


Sustainability is often still viewed as a luxury investment.
At Seymourpowell, we would argue that mid-to-long term, it’s quite the opposite.

the CMF team at seymourpowell

We believe that initiatives centering around sustainability do not only have a strong correlation with better financial performance but also play a role in creating it. The fact that leading brands are making uncompromising public commitments about their ESG targets – with big efforts to address both environmental and social issues – is proof that sustainable practices can generate value. From improving resource efficiency, to simplifying the supply chain or shifting to rental models, there are economical gains (from the simple to the more complex) that can produce results across the whole value chain – all thanks to sustainable initiatives.

Back in 2020, we collaborated with a tech giant to help reduce the impact of their packaging. By changing their cardboard box to a pulp composite, we were not only able to reduce the carbon embedded in the production material and the amount of material used overall, but also reduce the volume of the pack itself by 50% and ultimately the amount of “air” shipped around the world, drastically reducing shipping costs.

We all know that creating sustainable products and services can be fraught with challenges. From undertaking end-to-end product lifecycle analysis, to redesigning products and systems that genuinely reduce environmental and social impact, to finding partners and re-structuring supply chains that align with our organisational goals; the process is notoriously complicated. It’s made more challenging by long testing processes and complex regulation around implementing sustainable innovations which are genuinely better for people, business and the planet.

For this reason, we’ve created our own proprietary tool called the Sustainable Colour Material and Finish (CMF) Index. Supported by insights and methodologies from leading experts and organisations in associated fields of circular, sustainable, and regenerative design, the index is a digital and physical framework founded on our work across multiple industries.

Containing hundreds of material technologies derived from the latest in materials science and categorised by their suitability for any sustainability challenge, the Index represents a practical framework designed to provide inspiration, clarity, and confidence to stakeholders looking to implement environmentally positive solutions within CMF design.

To create maximum impact, we use our technical knowledge and investigative curiosity to develop solutions that are feasible and desirable.

So for brands looking to improve their environmental practices, how can this tool provide a progressive approach to sustainability and empower them to make better decisions?

We talk a lot about bandwidth at Seymourpowell. Our exposure to multiple industries allows us to identify disruptive technologies that can elevate a specific sector. Let’s take the automotive industry, for example. Earlier this year, the European Commission unveiled its End-of-Life Vehicles Regulation, looking at new measures to improve circularity in the automotive sector through better car design and end-of-life management. This signalled a shift in circular thinking and a more wide-spread application of sustainable material technologies being used across the industry. Such progress has a knock-on effect; other slow-moving industries (like the aviation sector) who have similar sustainability goals (such as light weighting, resource efficiency, renewable materials and mono construction) could also benefit from these advancements.

We’ve canvassed hundreds of technologies across all material types to create this tool. Thinking more sustainably requires re-thinking how products are made and discarded. Inevitably, this means looking at what a product is made of, how its materials are extracted, what processes are involved in the supply chain etc. Through the application of the index cards, you may come across a technology that you’ve never encountered before, sparking new ideas around how to construct, package, finish or dismantle your product at the end of its life.

“Innovation for brands rarely springs from monumental ideas; it emerges from a mosaic of small, inventive solutions, ingeniously brought together.”
Dick Powell

Indeed, big ideas often start with small seeds and we believe that, through cross-pollination, the index can initiate new ways of designing for better.

The dependability of the index lays in the long-standing relationships we have with leading suppliers from across the globe. True collaboration takes time and requires shared efforts. At Seymourpowell, we’ve been working with some of our suppliers for almost four decades, allowing us to truly understand the ins and outs of their processes and better evaluate and trust the data they share with us. We’re in constant dialogue with our suppliers to inform them about consumer demands and our client's short-to-long term environmental goals. Many of our partners know how we utilise this intel to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

It's important to view the index as a framework. It’s not solely built as a material resource; it offers a guiding methodology which helps to approach sustainable CMF through systems thinking. The world is built around systems and so it is imperative to consider the interrelationships, recurring patterns and infrastructure around the product or experience we are designing.

The work we’ve done for Vaseline is a great example of this. Vaseline is an iconic global brand with a diverse number of uses around the world.

These cultural nuances have led to a proliferation of packaging formats across markets, which over time have grown to over 53 SKUs! By simplifying the pack down to a single iconic shape, we developed a mono-material structure to increase recyclability. An overall material reduction of 3% also created efficiencies for packaging production and transportation. These small changes resulted in Unilever’s biggest packaging saving of that year, while also reigniting the consumer’s love of the brand.

There are many ways to approach sustainability. Our role is to define the route that will deliver greatest impact for your business.

This piece was brought to you by the CMF Team at Seymourpowell.