Our March issue cover story takes a look at what the office supply giant Staples has done to sharply reduce the packaging used in its e-commerce business.
DC Velocity has written before about the multiple benefits of more efficient packaging—reduced use of corrugated and dunnage, shipping less air and thus reducing transportation costs, and so on. Those are the sorts of things that Staples is measuring as it rolls out a new lean packaging system across its DC network. But there's one other factor that drove Staples to this effort: customer satisfaction.
The company began to look for ways to reduce packaging in response to customers who objected to getting shipments in boxes far larger than their contents required, and the company has measured an uptick in customer satisfaction since adopting the technology that creates a custom box for each order.
We've seen very large companies push their suppliers to develop packaging that reduces waste and transportation costs, most notably Wal-Mart. What makes the Staples experience interesting is that the company was seeing the demand for more earth-friendly packaging from a wide swath of customers. That suggests to me that sustainability is fast becoming a business imperative across industries. There is a real interest—and, well, a sustained interest—in practices that reduce energy, reduce waste, reduce miles, improve employee comfort and safety, and more. We see it at DCs around the nation, at retailers, in offices. Even the business giant Amazon regularly asks its customers for feedback on its packaging. Part of that may be to ensure goods arrived damage free. But certainly, it is about the appropriateness of the packaging as well. Business executives are looking closely at both their own practices and practices across the supply chain to develop ways of doing things that will reduce their carbon footprints regardless of whether they face any sort of government imperative.
As we've seen again and again in reporting on sustainability, adopting those practices is not just good corporate citizenship—although it is that. It is also good business.
Most often, what we've seen is that it's good business because it reduces costs and waste. But as the Staples case demonstrates, it is proving to be good for the top line as well. Consumers and businesses alike are demonstrating that they will determine who gets their business based in no small part on their perception of just how green you are.
Logistics professionals, with responsibility for how goods move across supply chains, are in a powerful position to help their companies along the path of sustainability. It's a position they should embrace.