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Bonus Content: How to Reduce Packaging

Jan Niehaus’ article “When less is more,” on page 26 of the November issue of tED magazine, discusses new ways that channel partners are finding to reduce, reuse and recycle their massive amounts of packaging. In this sidebar, Niehaus reveals what trends packaging industry experts are seeing and recommending for the future of green packaging.

By Jan Niehaus

At Pack Expo 2012, host of the Reusable Packaging Association’s annual convention, Dennis Salazar, a packaging industry leader and guest columnist in “Environmental Leader,” saw thinner, stronger, more easily recycled packaging materials with higher percentages of recycled content than in previous years, plus an increase in reusable packaging for internal use.

“You can definitely tell that manufacturers are trying to find the balance between making sure that products are delivered safely with no damage or defect and using the minimum amount of packaging,” said Nathan Lewis, director of operations at Werner Electric Supply in Cottage Grove, Minnesota.

In “Environmental Leader“, Kyla Fisher, corporate sustainability director for PaperWorks, reported an emphasis on rightsizing—using cartons that are no larger than necessary to deliver their contents unharmed. “Cube optimization” it’s called. In addition to reducing the cost of packaging materials and later recycling expense, Fisher reported that smaller, lighter-weight parcels may also drive down transportation expense.

Arnold Barlow, manager of sustainable solutions for the master shipper UPS, affirmed Fisher’s call for greater cube optimization, in an article in “Packaging Digest.” He and co-author Bill Armstrong, a packaging consultant for Sealed Air, wrote, “When it comes to shipping in this fast-moving and competitive global market, every cubic inch of space has become increasingly valuable.”

Fisher recommends an incremental approach to implementing green packaging, which is the exact track that electrical distributors are taking. Werner launched their popular Eco-Tote program with only four customers and now delivers in durable, plastic Eco-Totes to their top 15 customers. Steve Van Oss, chief operating officer for Pittsburgh-based WESCO, described WESCO’s similar approach: “Using LEAN principles, we find or develop a best practice at a location and then share that information with our other locations. Building on our success with reusing and recycling at our Warrendale, Pennsylvania, distribution center, we have used reverse logistics to help other branches reduce their environmental footprints.”

Salazar predicted and applauded the accelerated adoption of green packaging techniques: “What I find most encouraging is the change of attitude that is more back to basics; packaging design that is green by default. Don’t misunderstand, I am not at all critical of this approach, in fact I am convinced it is the only way we can drive positive, long-term change. It will be successful because it is based in economics, not guilt and because in most cases the savings they produce are immediate with minimal upfront investment. Even though this economically driven change may not have the green banner on it, the results happen to be basic in regards to sustainability.”

Jan Niehaus, president of Communication by Design, serves companies in the electrical industry by creating effective marketing communications and designing custom training programs, often applying her extensive knowledge of green building and sustainability. Jan writes the “Green Channel” column and frequent features for tED. She also designed and scripted NAED’s “Selling Green 101” online curriculum. You can reach Jan at 314-644-4135 or Jan@CommunicationByDesign.net.

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