Knowledge Is Power: It Is Not Only Nice to Share What You Know

Posted: April 1, 2010 by
Wendy Jedlicka

In the books Packaging Sustainability and Sustainable Graphic Design (both from Wiley Publishing), the contributors (most are faculty at Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s Sustainable Design Program, and all are working eco-pros) put out a challenge to educators:
“For those in academia, this book is representative of the core approach of Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s (MCAD) Sustainable Design Certificate Program
( Most of the key contributors to this book are Sustainable Design Certificate faculty, who welcome the opportunity to open a dialogue about higher education’s role and responsibility in reshaping industry. Taking a holistic approach, MCAD’s Sustainable Design Certificate students are taught how to think in sustainability terms, and empower the students to be fellow agents for positive change, fueling true innovation.”
We didn’t do this to be nice, we did it to say: Here is a blueprint for your own sustainability efforts. If you want to prepare your students for the demands that will be put on them in today’s market, you need to change—and now!
This type of challenge is being put out into industry, too. Paralleling efforts in open-source computing, business is looking at ways of leveraging the same advantages found in distributed development. To push this concept forcefully to accelerate eco-innovation across industry sectors, IBM is leading an effort to make “eco-patents” part of the public domain through the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD;

Letting them explain it best, from their website…
The Eco-Patent Commons, launched by IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, and Sony in partnership with the WBCSD, was founded on the commitment that anyone who wants to bring environmental benefits to market can use these patents to protect the environment and enable collaboration between businesses that foster new innovations. The objectives of the Eco-Patent Commons are:
• To provide an avenue by which innovations and solutions
may be easily shared to accelerate and facilitate implementation
to protect the environment and perhaps lead to further innovation.
• To promote and encourage cooperation and collaboration
between businesses that pledge patents and potential users to foster further joint innovations and the advancement and development of solutions that benefit the environment.
Since the launch of the Eco-Patent Commons in January 2008, one hundred eco-friendly patents have been pledged by 11 companies representing a variety of industries worldwide: Bosch, Dow, DuPont, Fuji-Xerox, IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes, Ricoh, Sony, Taisei, and Xerox.

This is really powerful stuff. Companies that would otherwise be looking for ways to cut each other at the knees are teaming up to find new ways of pushing the whole of their industry forward.
Packaging efforts (at least in the U.S.) have lagged behind other industries in the sustainability department for some time. Tiny margins squeezed out in a commodity business with high overhead and capital expenditures make every player feel they need to be a solo combatant on the shared playing field. But in recent times, some of the biggest customers have grown tired of the fragmentation that has plagued our industry for too long. For instance, to start bringing people together and sharing information in order to move the whole of its supply chain in a more sustainable direction, Walmart Sustainable Packaging Scorecard requires participants to share data that can benefit the whole of the system. Information sharing is also at the heart of many groups working for long-term change, like Ceres and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition.
We are still in the early stages of this paradigm shift, though, and many people are shy about helping to train their competition. But those who recognized the benefits of eco-change early have recognized too that the greatest benefits come when ideas and efforts, successes as well as failures, are shared openly. These companies have found that the louder you are about what you're doing and being open to sharing, the greater the rewards and the stronger your market position, leaving their "less-open" competitors scrambling to the me-too slot.

Dell Adds Renewable Bamboo to Its Packaging Portfolio
Dell is working with bamboo packaging supplier Unisource Global Solutions (UGS) to ensure all processes associated with the bamboo’s production meet the highest standards. The company sources its raw bamboo from a forest that follows Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) principles and criteria. In addition, on their website, Dell is happy to share information about their sustainability methodologies and efforts for others to learn from. For instance:

Why Bamboo?
• It grows fast. Bamboo, a member of the grass family, is among the fastest growing woody plants in the world. It can grow up to 24 inches per day and reaches full harvesting maturity
in three to seven years, significantly faster than hardwoods.
• It’s strong. Remarkably, bamboo’s tensile strength is similar
to that of steel, making it a reliable material for protecting technology equipment in transit.
• It’s easy on the environment. Bamboo helps promote
healthy soil. The plant’s deep root systems protect against land erosion, and when harvested correctly, it doesn’t require replanting after harvest.

The three Cs of smarter packaging
In December 2008, Dell announced a plan to revolutionize computer packaging. By 2012, Dell aims to reduce packaging volume by 10%; increase the amount of recycled content in packaging by 40%; and increase the amount of materials in packaging that’s curbside recyclable to 75%. To achieve these goals, the company is implementing a strategy based on the three Cs:
• Cube – How big is the box? Could it be smaller?
• Content – What is the packaging made of? Could it be made of something better?
• Curb – Is it easily recycled?

The Sustainability Update is coordinated by Wendy Jedlicka, CPP – Jedlicka Design Ltd. (, o2 International Network for Sustainable Design ( and, Minneapolis College of Art and Design’s groundbreaking Sustainable Design Certificate Program (