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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
Dell's Cube, Content, Curb Approach to Packaging

If you’re a long-time Dell customer, you’ve probably noticed that our packaging looks far different than it did just a few years ago. It’s smaller, easier to recycle, and may even contain some materials you’re more likely to associate with your garden than your computer.

Those changes are part of a concerted evolution we’ve been making to our boxes and cushioning to give customers a friendlier and more sustainable experience out of the box. We embarked on this project by conducting conversations with our enterprise customers and consumers, to see how they viewed the packaging. We found customers had all kinds of strong opinions and they weren’t afraid to share. After sorting through the comments, we realized that customers wanted us to care as much about the environment, the planet and future generations as they did. They were tired of large boxes, polystyrene foam filling, and a system that placed the burden of responsible disposal on them. I call this my team’s “a-ha” moment, and it has guided our work since then.

We knew that our program had to be ambitious, holistic and innovative — covering a package’s life from design to disposal. In 2008, we launched our “3Cs” packaging initiative, standing for “cube, content and curb,” and set multiyear targets, which we achieved last year:

  • Cube: We committed to reducing the size of packaging by at least 10 percent. In reality we achieved a 12 percent reduction in size across our packaging portfolio.
  • Content: We reached our goal of a 40 percent increase in the amount of recycled and renewable content used.
  • Curb: We ensured that up to 75 percent of packaging is recyclable or compostable at curbside.

The work was a true triple-bottom-line success. Our customers are markedly happier and have even sent pictures of the packaging as testament. We eliminated more than 20 million pounds of material from our supply chains. And we reduced our packaging expense by more than $18 million. As a bonus, the plan and its implementation spawned creative thinking, teamwork and innovations we may otherwise have never imagined.

The Future of Packaging: Challenges and Key Directions for Innovation

Join us as Burt's Bees, Canopy, Smile Compostable Solutions and Sway share keen insights into the most promising trends, competing priorities and biggest hurdles around sustainable and regenerative packaging innovations — Wednesday, Oct. 18, at SB'23 San Diego.

To reduce the size of packaging, we created a multipack system for some of our servers, desktops and laptops. When customers order large quantities of the same product, upon request, we can bundle them together for greater efficiency, rather than shipping them in separate boxes. It seems simple, but it required engineering on both the ordering and packaging fronts. The multipack is far simpler to handle, faster to unpack, and easier to dispose of than individual boxes. For instance, we can ship a fully configured server chassis in a single box, enabling a customer to unpack and get up and running in about 15 minutes. For larger customers, we’ve found that multipack can reduce deployment time by up to 47 percent.

Inside the box, we’ve pioneered use of bamboo cushioning to replace foams and plastics. The bamboo is rapidly renewable, grows close to our manufacturing facilities and is highly durable. During production, we can reclaim most of the water used for pulping. We can also take advantage of solar drying when weather permits, which reduces energy consumption by up to 70 percent. At the end of its life, the bamboo cushioning is recyclable and even certified compostable.

Perhaps our most intriguing innovation has come by way of mushrooms. Working with biotechnology firm Ecovative Design, we’re taking agricultural waste such as cotton hulls and injecting it with mushroom spawn. Our mushroom packaging is proving to be as strong and protective as polystyrene, which is crucial since it needs to protect tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of state-of-the-art Dell PowerEdge servers. Similar to the bamboo cushioning, the mushroom foam is also compostable.

Dell’s packaging is just one step in its larger lifecycle approach to sustainability. We design products and packaging with the planet in mind, considering the environmental impact at each stage of its existence. While we are very pleased with the progress we’ve made, we’re not content to sit on our laurels. We’re using the lessons from our “3Cs” journey to inform the next stage of our packaging — and we can’t wait to see what your next box might look like.


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