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What’s your product packaging I.Q.?

2011 was a year full of smart technologies. We met Siri, snuggled up with the Kindle Fire, worked up a sweat with the Fitbit Ultra and even discussed the possibility of a robotic takeover in manufacturing.

It was a busy year, yet there’s one trend in particular that grabbed my attention—the rise of smart packaging.



Puma’s ‘clever little bag’ uses 65% less
cardboard than a typical shoebox.

Today, discarded or once-used packaging makes up about a third of our landfills. This isn’t just bad news for our environment, it represents money down the drain for manufacturers as well. To combat this wastefulness, many manufacturers are using the philosophy of smart packaging to reduce the amount of resources used to ship goods and package products.

One of my favorite smart packaging designs this year came from Puma, who designed a clever little bag that uses 65% less cardboard than a typical cardboard shoebox. The design also reduces the typical water, energy and diesel consumption that goes into making a shoebox—saving 8,500 tons of paper, 20 million megajoules of electricity and 1 million liters of water. Not to mention, the box looks cool and is a huge hit with customers.

Perhaps because of the bag’s commercial success, some have wondered if the design is just a marketing tactic, or an actual investment in green packaging.

After hearing the doubts, Puma tweeted in response:

puma tweet

Well played, Puma.

Outdoor gear shop REI also embraces smart packaging

Eric Abraham, packaging engineering manager for REI, recently announced a “no packaging, simply product” philosophy for five of the company’s most popular products. The move is part of the company’s new goal to reduce packing materials by 35% by 2013.

Below is an example of REI’s “no packaging, simply product” philosophy in action.


The large, brown package in the back is REI’s old packaging method. It uses polylaminate to adhere the trekking pole tips to a recycled paper backing card. The new packaging is the smaller item in front. It’s the same product, but the new package uses 100% post-consumer recycled paper and a clay-coated newsback. The means a 36% lower packaging weight and no plastic waste.

For REI, green packaging has saved  millions of dollars a year, as well as improved customer engagement. Nothing builds loyalty like taking a stand for a common goal—in this case, a greener planet.

rei tweet

REI’s decision to move to more sustainable packaging wasn’t inspired by expensive surveys and case studies on consumer behavior—it came from simply observing shoppers. When REI started offering in-store recycling for the shipping boxes used to deliver boots, many customers discarded their box in the recycling bin immediately after buying the shoes. After all, people were buying the boots, not the box.

Does your product packaging need an IQ adjustment?

You might need to spend some creative energy and logistical brainpower to figure out how to implement smarter packaging for your product, but there are big payoffs for making the effort. Not only will you reduce packaging costs and eliminate excess waste, but you might also experience a surge in interest and customer loyalty.

Does your current packaging align with the values of your customers and your business?