MARKETPLACE FOR SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS
Another company that’s taking a holistic approach to sustainability is Distant Village Packaging in Chicago. When president Rich Cohen took a year off to travel the world, he discovered many skilled artisans along the way. When he returned to the States, he started a business selling handcrafted gifts. “My original goal was to preserve handmade crafts,” he says, “but then I decided this was not the best way to support the artisans. Even though we had great success, we were selling a dozen items at a time. Then we discovered the opportunity for using the same materials to make custom packaging.” His company now sells a variety of tree-free, handmade boxes, which are sustainable not just in materials, but also because “they’re so damn gorgeous, they won’t get thrown away. If you make something beautiful, it will get reused.” For Cohen, material choices are just the beginning. “We do our best to use environmentally conscious materials,” he says, “but that’s only part of our goal.” He’s preserving indigenous craft traditions by creating a marketplace for them. As these artisans make more money, they spend it in their own communities, which creates more economic growth in remote places. And as more parents are able to send their children to school, the cycle of opportunity and growth is furthered. However, he doesn’t wear much of this do-gooding on his sleeve. “Externally, you don’t feel any of that in our presentation and marketing,” he says. “All you see is a slick packaging design company that just happens to connect the richest classes with the neediest classes. It is ironic that we have vendors who don’t have shoes, and yet their artisan packaging is being bought at exclusive department stores by women wearing $2000 shoes.”
Packaging from Distant Village uses agricultural products that would otherwise be discarded, including banana fibers from trunks and stems, as well as waste material gathered from forest floors. These papers are made without bleach, chemicals or artificial dyes, use alternative fuel sources, and their manufacture provides additional income for farm workers in remote villages. The materials used in making these boxes, from the upper left, clockwise, are: banana fiber aged for color, waste gathered from the forest floor, reclaimed banana fiber with a coconut button closure, and tree-free paper woven by hand through a loom.