Sunday, September 13, 2009

eBay Helps Partners Go To Green Packaging

Transportation and the packaging of products is a large part of eBay’s supply chain, both environmentally and financially. With nearly 100 shipments per second, the impact of eBay and its partners is substantial.

Libby Reder, Head of Environmental Initiatives at eBay shared "the first step was providing easy-to-understand education for partners to make them aware of more sustainable options both environmentally and financially”. Those greener options include:
  • Ground transportation, which is on average seven times less damaging to the environment then shipping by air. Air is also much more expensive than ground in most situations.
  • Right-sized packaging, which allows more items to be shipped on the same vehicle.
eBay had already selected transportation companies that are committed to improving efficiency and the mileage per ton delivered. eBay partners with UPS who operates the largest private alternative fuel vehicle fleet in the US. USPS is its other partner, who pledges to reduced its environmental impact by 30% by 2015.

The branded eBay box was completely redesigned to be fully sustainable using “Cradle to Cradle” (C2C) design philosophy. In the Cradle to Cradle (C2C) model, all materials used in commercial processes are non-toxic and can be either:
  • Continuously reused in the primary commercial process without losing quality. Recycling one ton of cardboard which is about 4,000 boxes saves three tons of wood pulp or 17 trees. It saves the equivalent of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity or 23% of the energy needed to process one ton of corrugated cardboard from fresh wood pulp.
  • Composted to become nutrients for the soil. Paper fibers do eventually break down, but may be recycled up to 8 times. When finally disposed of, C2C cardboard will decompose quickly and be free of containments.

The eBay boxes are made from recycled materials and all materials are harmless to the environment. This effort, as Libby Reder explained “took eBay several months to design”. eBay worked with its partner at USPS who earned C2C certification for the new eBay co-branded packaging. Although, eBay did not design new cushioning or tape, they provide practical and easy tips and sources to make these packaging related items more sustainable.

Given that cardboard is already one of the most popular items to recycle, some may not fully appreciate the benefits of eBay’s program. Although cardboard can be recycled, even if a business or individual diligently puts in on the curb for recycling, it may not be recycled if there is not a market for it. By purchasing recycled cardboard, eBay supports a part of the supply chain indirectly connected to it and helps to create a sustainable market for recycled cardboard. In a down economy, less cardboard is required by manufacturers and traditional retailers, making cardboard less attractive to recycle. But eBay does better in a down economy and helps to even out demand.

When cardboard is recycled, it first needs to go through a cleaning process to remove ink and other binding agents. Most traditional cardboard boxes use toxic inks and other agents and those toxic materials end up in the water. If the cardboard is not recycled --- about 35 percent of corrugated cardboard is not according to EPA studies --- it ends up either incinerated where those toxic chemicals are released into the air or in a landfill where those toxic chemicals leach into soil and ground water.

A Cradle to Cradle (C2C) design sets off a chain reaction, where each material and process contributing to a product or activity must be analyzed. This is dramatically different from the traditional supply chain. The traditional supply chain is often treated as “loosely coupled” and independent links where each party focuses on its business and parties only come together to exchange goods and services. This exchange is usually at the direct connection points and activities beyond direct connections are rarely considered.

Loosely coupled supply chains are efficient when there are mature processes and widespread best practices. In that case, market forces can be relied upon to weed out poor performers. But sustainability is an evolving area, where the requirements of buyers and methods used by providers are immature. It often takes a leader --- who does not always directly own, but can influence --- to step in and take action.
eBay was thrilled by partner response. “Partners were enthusiastic and loved that eBay was working on these sustainability initiatives”, asserted Libby Reder. The new C2C boxes are free through USPS and are the only ones carried by eBay. Partners may of course choose from other packaging suppliers, but adoption has been good. Since the program started in mid-2007, more than 20 million eBay partners have ordered the new C2C packaging.

eBay seller’s resources

UPS green shipping resources

USPS mailer’s resources

Cradle to cradle Design Philosophy

C2C Certification


  1. All businesses should be striving for greater sustainability and it's really good to see companies like eBay and UBS acknowledging their responsibilities to the environment.

  2. It was awesome to see all this kind of nice ideas of having a packing of different products. Packaging is relevant for it protects, preserves, and contains the product for an easy transport. I just wish you all the best and hope to see some more new packaging ideas.
    vinyl gloves