Unsung heroes: Paper engineers

Sculpture by Mark Langan

Sculpture by Mark Langan

My new 27″ ultra-high-def monitor arrived from Amazon last week. It came in the usual corrugated Amazon box with loose paper stuffed around the edges, cushioning the jewel within.

But I’m not talking about the monitor itself. I’m talking about the box in which Dell packs the monitor.

In the old days, delicate electronics shipped with custom-molded styrofoam inserts. Many still do. It’s strong, light – and pretty awful for the environment. So companies have experimented with alternatives such as rigid plastic and molded paper pulp inserts (think egg cartons) that can be recycled or, even better, composted like the kind our client Be Green Packaging makes.

As long as two decades ago, that innovator Apple Computer shipped its G3 Powerbook laptops suspended in the box by interlocking air-filled sacs. An amazing unboxing experience if there ever was one.

Wanting to top that, our firm worked with a packaging engineer to create the box for the Qbe, an early tablet computer. It was held in a sandwich of very tough, clear elastic film that suspended the product inside the box, holding it away from the sides and functioning as a shock absorber during shipment. Also cool.

My new Dell monitor, however, used corrugated cardboard to protect itself on its way to me. Pretty old school. But the fascinatingly intricate die-cuts create locking tabs that hold together the necessary shapes with no glue, no tape. They pop into slots and create powerful, rigid support elements that you could drive over with a tank. I discovered this as I was breaking the box down for recycling. Whole sections of the structure simple unhook, unroll, and turn back into flat sheets. It really is a magnificently executed solution.

Design thinking applies to almost anything, but certainly to the problem of creating strong, light shipping materials that don’t destroy the planet. I wonder what’s next?

Google Chromebook goes green

A big huzzah for our client Be Green Packaging. They’ll be manufacturing packaging for Google’s Chromebook, the amazing $279 laptop.

Be Green’s innovative technology, which allows them to create near-vertical draft angles in a molded natural fiber container, makes them a perfect choice for crisp, high-tech products like this. One more company doing one more thing to keep global warming at bay, and reduce the Texas-sized slurry of plastic particles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean by at least a bit.

Curious to read the whole story? Check it out here:

Google Chromebook Goes Green: New Laptop Packaging Made From Blend of Sustainable Plant Fibers | Be Green Packaging LLC.

Beyond Cradle to Cradle: The Upcycle and the Future of Sustainable Design

When I get busy, sometimes the blog suffers. Luckily, our client Be Green Packaging has put up a great, informative post about William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s new book “The Upcycle”.

They contend that companies can and should go beyond Zero Emissions and actually develop processes that improve the environment. And they present examples of some who are doing just that!

Read more here:

Going Beyond Cradle to Cradle: The Upcycle and the Future of Sustainable Design.

Small quantity cost with big quantity impact

In an internet-driven world, the need for printed material isn’t always clear. Sometimes a PDF will do. But sometimes you need that “thunk” factor…the credibility that an actual brochure creates when it lands on your customer’s desk. A physical piece has a different emotional impact than a digital one. And Be Green Packaging wanted a piece that set them apart.

They also needed the flexibility of a set of inserts that could be customized for a specific prospect or project. That required a pocket in the back to hold them all, and that meant die-cutting and gluing. So, for the graphic elements on the cover, we decided to use blind-embossing and foil stamping — all similar processes that could be done by the same vendor. And all this meant that the quantity had to be large enough to amortize the cost of dies and set-up.

But here’s the problem. Be Green just doesn’t need thousands of brochures. For them, a digitally-printed solution makes sense. They can run 50 or 100 at once, keep them up to date, and only print what they can use (which is environmentally sound, too).

The solution? Give them the best of both worlds. Produce a larger supply of covers with pockets. Then print and bind the body of the brochure as needed, in small quantities. The result is a piece that makes a wonderful impression, but is flexible and cost-effective, and can be brought up to date easily and inexpensively.

Green opportunities all weekend

greenlightWhat a week! I started in Boston at BAI’s annual Retail Delivery Conference and Expo (for which we’ve created the campaign and graphic theme for four years in a row — more on that in separate blog post), and ended up at the Opportunity Green conference at UCLA over the weekend.  To quote from their website, “The world can no longer afford business as usual. Opportunity Green emerged to confront this challenge and bring together the brightest innovators leading the growth of the new green economy.”

A few highlights of the conference — at least for me:

  • Hearing Adam Lowry, one of the founders of Method cleaning products (whose concept, design, copy and creativity have made me a huge fan) talk about their beginnings, what the company has learned, and where he sees the industry heading. About how a company is more of an organism than it is an organization. And how, despite all the metrics and business models, sometimes companies “just have to do something awesome.” Continue reading