Sustainable. When I look in the thesaurus it shows synonyms like, "maintainable, supportable, workable, ecological, green, natural, and balanced". I like the term, “Balanced”. It makes sense. We are balancing materials so that a great deal of the package can be sustainable. When we balance these materials we often reduce the amount of one material and increase the amount of a more sustainable material. What makes a packaging material sustainable? Well, there are a lot of tradeoffs.
Larry Pexton, the CEO at Triad Speakers, was looking to reduce his packaging cost. We did a presentation for Larry’s team on sustainability and showed them we could get cost reductions through our sustainable engineering effort. Larry and his team agreed that it was a good fit for their company. We took one of their speakers and started the project in February of this year. Triad’s speakers are not necessarily fragile bit the finish on the speaker is a critical item. These are very high end audio speakers that deliver a tremendous amount of sound. I have them at home and they really are amazing. (A little shameless - but deserved - plug for Larry’s company!)
The first thing we did was carefully weigh and document each part of the original packaging. We used our Life Cycle Tool for accurately defining the environmental impact associated with each item. The original packaging used a combination of corrugated pads with polyethylene foam glued to the pads to support the 22 lb. speaker and provide protection from damage. This packaging met ISTA’s (International Safe Transit Association) drop and vibration criteria. The speaker needs to survive the ISTA test without a scratch. Polyethylene foam is a very good material if you are trying to protect a finish. It is the same material that most plastic bags are made of. It is soft, flexible, and does not mar the finish of almost any product. Corrugated, on the other hand, is extremely abrasive. So now we had to figure out a new “Balance” for this pack. How can we use corrugated to provide cushioning and keep it from abrading the finish on the speaker? The drop criteria has ten drops in succession and we also need to have the corrugated be resilient like foam. If the corrugated gets crushed in the pack, then we need to find a way to make the corrugated a bit more resilient.
More “balance” was needed. We went back to polyethylene foam for our material choice to prevent the finish damage. The balance is to use much less foam now that we have corrugated to provide the suspension of the speaker. After a couple of iterations, we came upon a simple solution of die cutting the foam to match the shape of the corner board, an “L” with an L-shaped slit in it. The foam is pushed on to the corner board prior to the corrugated W’s. This was the small amount of cushion that we needed to prevent damage in the corners. Our ISTA testing showed that this was a complete success.
Cost reduction? The per package pricing was reduced over 20%.
There were several added benefits to this design. Triad has several speakers that are produced in small quantities because they are specialized custom equipment. With the new packaging, Triad can cut their own corner board to length and use the W’s as a common component – even doubling them up for heavier speakers. Then all that’s needed is a custom outer carton so cost is reduced even further. By having this level of commonality in the design, the economy of scale – that is the cost advantage of purchasing higher numbers of common parts -- is substantial.
We have substantially reduced the carbon footprint of the packaging. Carbon was reduced 21%, Fossil Fuel Consumption was reduced by 33%, and Water and Biotic Consumption were up slightly. The cube of the packaging was also reduced by 36%. This will result in reduced emmissions, even lower Fossil Fuel Consumption and a very good cost savings to Triad for outbound freight.
We did all of this by paying attention to “Balance”. We feel that this is an important step in the evolution of our company. This ‘Balance’ reflects how we feel about our business and our community.
Can Box+Foam do the same for your products? We would like to try! Contact us soon-- or forward this blog to someone who could use our skills.