Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sustainability in Action

I changed a printer cartridge on my HP 5610 multi-function thing-a-ma-jig this morning and spent a few minutes studying the cartridge, the packaging, and the envelop conveniently included to mail the used cartridge back to HP. I took the time to do this because I was interested and I remembered meeting Ed Costa, representing HP's Global Technology Value Solutions Group at a Harvard Business School event last year addressing sustainable business. I enjoyed Ed's comments on moving companies from an environmental regulatory compliance mentality to a model where regulation is nearly irrelevant because the product is environmentally benign. We are a long way off from that, but the fact that people in industry are thinking about it is a good sign.

The overall package was quite reasonable, though the outer box was bigger than it needed to be. I am not a packaging engineer, but I did call on customers that designed packaging machinery back in the late 90's. There are lots of design inputs for packaging, not the least of which is aesthetic appeal on retailers' shelves. Remember the giant CD cases? I am sure there are many, many articles on the contribution excessive packaging makes to the destruction of our society (tongue in cheek).

Back to the HP cartridge. To my untrained eye, the plastic wrapper around the cartridge was thin and adequate to keep it sealed. I am sure they need it to keep the cartridge from drying out or getting damaged by moisture in transit. For all I know the plastic is made from vegetables. The envelope included to send it back to HP for reuse was well proportioned, easy to use, and free (well, the price is somehow included in the purchase price). In fact, two cartridges could have fit into the envelope.

What's my point? If I had not met Ed, did not care about sustainable manufacturing, and did not know about HP's environmental effort, I would not have noted anything special about this packaging. Exactly!

1 comment:

Asheen Phansey said...

Wayne, you're right on about packaging needing to be revamped. Rest assurred that people are working on this (okay, maybe don't rest!). Check out EarthGuard Packaging (, for example; they took first prize at the Cleantech Innovation student business plan competition at the Sustainable Opportunities Summit in Denver, CO in February. They make a bio-derived, freezer-safe, microwaveable plastic food packaging tray.