Office Furniture Manufacturer Haworth Reduces Supply Chain CO2 Using Reusable Wrappings

U.S. companies can reduce carbon emissions from truck shipments by 20 percent with green packing methods, study by Perkins Logistics shows

Indianapolis — September 22, 2008 — Working with one of the world's largest office furniture manufacturers, a Midwest trucking company has discovered it can reduce carbon dioxide emissions approximately 20 percent by shipping products protected by reusable wrappings and equipment instead of cardboard boxes.

If the practice became widespread, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the United States could be staggering, said Andy Card, president and CEO of Perkins Logistics, based in the Indianapolis suburb of Noblesville.

"We were amazed at how shipping chairs and tables wrapped in protective blankets instead of cardboard containers could translate into such a sizable reduction in carbon dioxide emissions," Card said.

Testing Green Packing Methods

An independent study conducted by an Indianapolis research company showed that Perkins Logistics was able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent per pound shipped during a two-month test period, using specialized wrapping methods to ship some orders of products from the Bruce, Miss. plant of Haworth Inc. to customers in 16 states. Haworth, headquartered in Holland, Mich., is the world's third largest office furniture manufacturer, with sales of about $1.66 billion last year.

Taken over a year's time, the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be more than 283 metric tons — the equivalent of removing 52 passenger cars from the road for a year or emissions from heating 99 homes with natural gas, according to the study by Allegiant Global Services in Indianapolis. Founded in 2002, Allegiant Global is a consulting firm that studies byproduct management for clients and offers creative solutions to reduce their waste.

Card said that Perkins method of using blankets, straps, bars and plywood tiers allowed the company to fit an average of about 65 percent more products into its trailers, reducing the number of loads needed and eliminating cardboard waste.

Customers Onboard

A Haworth official said he was pleased with the results from the two-month test, and the company is assessing its more widespread use. "Packaging methods play a significant role in shipping efficiencies, but only after conducting a thorough investigation did we determine that a few fundamental changes in this area could also help reduce one element of the total carbon footprint of our products, taken over their useful lives," Haworth's Global Transportation Manager Henry Oosterhouse said.

Oosterhouse said Haworth agreed to participate in the study because the corporation supports initiatives that seek to reduce the carbon footprints of products at all points along their supply chains, which help to promote climate neutral operations. "And while it took some added effort on our end, our customers said they appreciated avoiding the labor of unpacking boxes and disposing of cardboard waste," he added.

Gregory Maiers, chief operating officer of Perkins Logistics, said the specialized packing method adds about 15 percent to the cost of a shipment due to the need for additional labor and reusable equipment, but the premium is more than offset by an average 65 percent increase in the number of items shipped per load and savings by the manufacturers from the elimination of cardboard boxes and other packing materials and the labor used to containerize products.

Eliminating Truckload Shipments

Established in 1913, privately held Perkins Logistics employs about 80 full-time people in providing long haul and regional truckload distribution in North America through its network of 350 independent trucking contractors. With sales exceeding $50 million last year, Perkins Logistics has experienced a compounded annual growth rate in excess of 20 percent over the last seven years.

Maria Swift, author of the Perkins Logistics study and director program management and sustainability at Allegiant Global, said her group scrutinized data from the bills of lading of 100 shipments from September and October last year that were transported from Haworth's factory in Bruce to customers in 23 states. The products in one-third of the loads were shipped using the Perkins method, and products in the remaining shipments were boxed with cardboard. Perkins Logistics paid for the study and shared its results with Haworth.

Because it was able to pack more pieces per truckload using the Perkins method, the company eliminated the need to make 11 truckload shipments during the study that would have emitted more than 27 metric tons of carbon dioxide from burnt diesel fuel alone.

Manufacturers can see further reductions in carbon dioxide emissions by eliminating the cardboard itself in shipping, Swift said. "Perkins got reduction credits for not using cardboard because nobody had to make those boxes," she said. Using calculations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that state box manufacturers emit 1.52 metric tons of carbon dioxide for every 2,000 pounds of containers they produce, Swift estimated that Perkins saved an additional 7.8 metric tons by using reusable blankets.

Applicability to Other Sectors

Maiers said interest in the Perkins method of packing is high in several industries for companies that want to reduce their carbon footprints. "Haworth and other customers that were aware of our preliminary findings are very excited about the system's potential," he said. "The Perkins method obviously isn't suited for every type of product, but it works well for customers that are shipping larger, bulkier pieces where aesthetics are of primary importance."

Other industries that could use Perkins shipping method include manufacturers of store fixtures, school furniture, telecommunications gear, office equipment such as large copiers, tradeshow exhibits, medical equipment and home cabinetry, according to the company.

Given the number of shipments of these types of products made in North America, specialized blanket wrapping could reduce thousands of tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, Maiers said. He said Perkins Logistics is examining other ways to reduce its carbon footprint, such as improving its fuel efficiencies over the next three years as a SmartWay Transport Partner certified by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.