Well Made

Ep. 138 Getting comfortable with trade-offs with Ian Montgomery

February 11, 2021 · RSS · Apple Podcasts

When you're researching a sustainability topic, it can feel like a nesting doll of rabbit holes — you often end up with more questions than when you started. The good news is, if you find yourself deliberating the gray areas of sustainability, then you're in the right place. 

Ian Montgomery says that designing for sustainability is all about getting comfortable with tradeoffs. He is the founder and Creative Director of Guacamole Airplane, a design studio focused on sustainable packaging, and one of the first Lumi Experts. If you've explored the Lumi Sustainability Properties, then you're familiar with Ian's work and his knack for finding clarity, and even conviction, in sustainability's gray areas.

 Getting comfortable with trade-offs

Through his work at Guacamole Airplane, Ian has explored exciting new alternative packaging materials like seaweed and mushrooms, but he realizes that the most sustainable solution isn't always the flashiest one. He's myth-busted brands away from greenwashing and iterated to innovate foamless electronics inserts, seaweed film seed sachets, and symbiotic shoelace compartments.

In this episode, Ian and Stephan explore the complicated nuance of sustainability properties, illuminate the "boring" easy wins you may be overlooking, and they dive into one of greenwashing's biggest offenders: compostable plastics.

“There's an association that sustainability is a luxury concern or something tied to luxury products, and that's not true. A good substitute for sustainability is just pragmatism or frugality, which are values that, if anything, are the antithesis of a luxury product.”

 Getting comfortable with trade-offs
 Getting comfortable with trade-offs
 Getting comfortable with trade-offs

To kick off the episode, Ian shares how a soil science project got him interested in sustainable packaging and the story behind the name Guacamole Airplane. Years ago, Lumi stumbled across Ian's work via his extensive material experiments. He has no aspirations to start manufacturing materials, but finds this type of hands-on experimentation invaluable (9:22). When it comes to exciting new materials, Ian contemplates the careful balance between innovation and scale. He talks about tough conversations with clients that may not want to invest in the high unit costs of cutting edge manufacturing processes that haven't yet hit the economies of scale (15:36).

Speaking of tough conversations, Ian and Stephan dive into greenwashing and the challenge of breaking hard news to brands excited to be more sustainable. One of the most common culprits is compostable plastic and the notorious poly bag (16:50).

Ian was the researcher behind the Lumi Sustainability Properties. He and Stephan discuss the rules of the project, tough decisions, and finding the right balance of information (22:56). Ian shares the sustainability advice he finds himself repeating most often — and it has nothing to do with packaging (38:50) and he unravels the misconception that the most sustainable choice will always be the more costly choice (40:34). To wrap things up, Ian shares his vision for the future of Guacamole Airplane (45:31).

Also mentioned on the show:

You can find this and all future episodes on iTunes, Google Play, and here on the Lumi blog. This episode was edited by Evan Goodchild.

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