It can be as inefficient as running half-empty trucks or train cars: The packaging that protects goods during shipment may be much more bulky than necessary, or make optimal stacking difficult. Volume-efficient packaging helps maximize the amount of cargo shipped, reducing vehicle traffic and related emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. And since manufacturers don’t make money from transporting air, it’s yet another example of alignment between environmental and economic goals.

For the Swedish telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson, with its global manufacturing network and customers in every corner of the world, effective logistics is essential to maintaining profit margins in a highly competitive industry. For years the company has worked systematically to make packaging development an integrated part of new product design—and the effort is paying off in the form of reduced weights and volumes.

The new packaging leads to better transportation efficiency, which reduces emissions, cuts costs and makes it easier to recycle waste. For the products that Ericsson sells most, the program has led to replacing plywood with corrugated cardboard for lower weight. That change alone is estimated to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 3,000 tons per year.

Ericsson says the positive results mean packaging development will continue to be an important focus. With tens of thousands of products shipped each year, the efficiency gains from improved packaging represent big savings, and the company says it is committed to continued reductions in its overall carbon footprint.

Article published in February 2010.