Sustainability vs culture : Juxtaposing sustainability with packaging phenomena of Japanese high-end confectionery

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Climate change is an imminent threat with severe impacts across the world. The concept of environmental sustainability therefore prevails as a blazing trend that countries, industries, and consumers must prioritize. In order to maximize the effectiveness of efforts and actions, it is imperative to consider the matter in the context of national, cultural, and societal landscapes. In this regard, cultural practices may act as hindrance to sustainability. Such examples can be seen in modern packaging practices in Japan that seem to inherently contradict the notion of sustainability. This Master’s thesis uncovers the reasons behind the current state of Japanese packaging, focusing on high-end confectionery, and sustainable thinking in the field of packaging. Numerous studies have been published in both areas, but combining the two, especially in a certain cultural context, is relatively novel. The first phase of this thesis is done through theoretical study, where the meaning of Japanese packaging is discovered as quite different than that of its Western counterparts. It is then complemented with frameworks, trends, and innovations of sustainable packaging in the world today. The second phase employs a multimethod approach, combining quantitative and qualitative research methods in different phases, particularly to extract first-hand insight on packaging in Japan. Through the discussions and synthesis of the empirical study, the thesis concludes by speculating the future of packaging design in Japan, marrying the trends of sustainability and Japanese culture. The study identifies three things. Firstly, in the flow of time, the attention to sustainability in Japan is surging, and the ostensibly contradicting forces are starting to look in the same direction. Secondly, while some of the tangible practices of packaging for high-end confectionery in Japan may appear excessive, they must be viewed with the consideration that the rituals and mannerism surrounding packaging phenomena has a deeper acquaintance to societal customs. Lastly, though at a glance, Japanese packaging and sustainability seem to be contradictory, because the notion of packaging in Japan holds such a heavy weight in its culture, it has the potential to become virtually synonymous with sustainability.
McGrory, Peter
Thesis advisor
Joutsela, Markus
packaging, sustainability, culture, Japan, multimethod, anthropology
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