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OM in the News: Sustainability and eBay Packaging

August 12, 2011

In Chapter 5 we discuss some of the easiest ways to make products more  sustainable. We can: (1) make them recyclable; (2) use recycled materials; (3) use less harmful ingredients; (4) use lighter materials; (5) use less energy; and (6) use less material. MITSloan Management Review (Aug. 11, 2011–E Newsletter) describes how eBay has made its packing boxes more sustainable by using almost all of these approaches. In doing so, the online auction company has come up with a solution that not only feeds on people’s desire to recycle, but helps brand the business as sensitive to the environment.

The eBay box is made of especially durable cardboard. Covered in graphics of birds and trees, it has text all over that basically says: “this box has been designed to be used over and over”. The inside of the lid even has spaces where users can leave notes where the box has been, essentially inviting recipients to celebrate the fact that the box has been used and reused.

The idea bubbled up internally. The firm’s Green Team is tasked with “inspiring the world to buy, sell and think green every day”. Out of the 250 suggestions submitted to eBay’s annual Innovation Expo, the grand prize winner was the eBay box. The project received a prestigious Clio design award a few months ago.

By May that the company had given away 100,000 of the boxes. The Green Team reports that “each box is made of 100% recycled material, printed with water-based inks, and designed to require minimal tape”. The 1,500 boxes reused so far have “conserved almost 7,000 gallons of water, energy to power 13 homes for a week, and reduced greenhouse gasses equivalent to taking 18 cars off the road for a week”.

Discussion questions:

1. Ask students to pick another product that can be redesigned to be greener.

2. Show the Frito-Lay video on sustainability (in Ch.7) and compare that company’s packing efforts to eBay’s.

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