Reduced Packaging: a Low-Carb Diet for Cisco

We have all experienced it–you buy a gadget at your favorite store, and you have to pry your new toy out of obnoxious plastic packaging that is about the size of your car’s windshield.  It seems as if the smaller an electronic gadget becomes, the laws of physics become more defied:  that new tiny smartphone or MP3 player leaves you at home with a mound of cardboard, plastic, and Styrofoam.  Even if your community recycles and you use reusable canvas bags, the amount of waste from a Costco or Target shopping run is disturbing.  Fortunately, more companies, including Cisco, are developing eco-friendly packaging solutions that not only reduce waste, but save money.

Cisco recently began a pilot program seeking to bundle some of its products into “smarter” packaging.  One product line not only reduced the amount of packaging by one-third, but increased its transportation load efficiency by 50% and saved the company US$1.3 million in shipping costs.  Across the entire pilot project, Cisco eliminated 4 million pounds of packaging

The lessons go far beyond the dollars saved:  reducing, and therefore, eliminating the many steps involved in recycling allow for reduced water and fuel consumption.  By having more of its products to be hauled per shipment, Cisco can reduce its corporate carbon footprint.  This is especially critical because Cisco, with its global supply chain and global consumer base, often ships many of its products by air.  Smaller packages that weigh less and require less space on a plane make a difference:  shipping by air creates nearly 20 times as many greenhouse gasses than the same tons per mile shipped by sea.Another company striving to reduce waste is AT&T.  By the end of 2011, the communications company expects to save about 200 tons in packaging wasteby requesting that all of its cell phone suppliers use slimmer packaging.  Instead of the clumsy plastic “clamshell” packaging that is not only difficult to pry open, but difficult to recycle, AT&T is instructing its vendors to enclose its phones and accessories in smaller, paper boxes that easily recycle.  Finally, the communications giant is mandating that these same companies use non-petroleum ink and incorporate  materials that are already recycled for internal packaging.According to Claudia Girrbach, senior IT director at Gap Inc., companies can reduce waste and save money with a few simple steps:1) Eliminate:  Manuals can be digitized and stored on CDs, for example.
2) Right-size:  Use one piece of cushioning instead of multiple pieces of plastic or Styrofoam.
3) Sustain:  Find materials like honeycombed paper that most communities can easily recycle–good-bye Styrofoam peanuts!

Finally, companies should work with their vendors and demonstrate not only the environmental benefits of reduced packaging, but the costs saved in freight, fuel, and resources.  It is not an easy task when you have hundreds, or even thousands, of suppliers, but Costco is a model of how companies can improve their sustainability performance while pocketing green, allowing such benefits to trickle down its supply chain.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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