Designing a packaging box to fit a flatscreen TV, a smartphone or a laptop is pretty straightforward. Then there are products with trickier shapes, like Sony Electronics' Sound Bar line, which consists of a long bar speaker and a separate box-like subwoofer.
Those two forms don't complement each other well on a shipping pallet, and the company found that "packing them in standard boxes was a waste of space and materials," they write. More than 50% of the space inside the box was air or packaging materials. Then there was the carbon cost of the shipping journey:
- From Sony's factory in Malaysia, the products take a 25-mile ride on the back of a truck to the port.
- They're then loaded onto a ship, where they travel another 9,000 miles or so to reach the U.S.
- The containers are unloaded from the ships onto more trucks, where they can travel for additional thousands of miles before they make its way into the homes of consumers.
Sony's solution was to design a Tetris-like box that was undoubtedly more expensive to make than the rectangular sort:
The results of switching to the new box are below, using the Malaysia-factory-to-U.S.-market travel figures:
Conventional rectangular box
"Since only 380 boxes could be loaded on a pallet, the greenhouse gas emissions per box was 14.46kg-CO2."
Space-saving L shaped box
"The ability to stack 600 boxes per pallet helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 12.34kg-CO2 per box."
I believe all of us with corporate work experience, particularly at companies where the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing, can think of a million ways this project might've been shot down due to competing interests of departments, poor communication about macro goals or plain ol' funding issues. But because the coordination in this case was good, the unusual box was implemented and a 15% reduction in CO2 emissions was realized. As incremental as that improvement may seem, I think this is a quiet and impactful design victory.