A Box's Life

By Sarah Sorensen
January 6, 2010

I hope everyone had a fantastic holiday. I had a great time, catching up with family and friends and eating way too much. But what I loved most was hanging out with my two girls. They are a constant reminder of the magic and wonder of the season and the value of a good box.

I bet any parent can acknowledge that the wrapping paper and boxes the toys come in are often more exciting and inspire more imagination than the toys themselves. It never fails - the most fun they have Christmas morning is traveling to far off destinations in the box. Hiding in or underneath the box tends to incite more giggles than any doll or toy airplane under the tree! Yet, with all the benefits offered by the box, it tends to be the first thing to go (in the recycling bin, of course).

So that got me thinking, what if we all made a concerted effort to extend the life of that box? There are some that are already on top of it - check out "A Box Life" , which is a program launched by Columbia Sportswear. It encourages the reuse of their packaging by helping customers track thier boxes when they use them to send items to another destination. Inspiring folks to see whose box can travel to the most or the farthest location. Pretty cool, huh? And if more companies/consumers took part, it could make a big difference.

Sarah Sorensen is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet.

The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.

You may also be interested in Nancy Conner's Living Green: The Missing Manual.

Taking care of the earth is more important than ever. Living Green: The Missing Manual is an all-in-one resource packed with practical advice on ways you can help the environment by making relatively easy, earth-friendly changes in your home routine, work habits, and the way you shop and get around town. This book teaches you how a few small changes can have a big impact.

Which got me thinking about all the other things we consume. There are the online services, such as Craigslist and Yahoo!, who have been helping users find other people that want and can use their old stuff for years; eBay has mastered the art of making old stuff as valuable, maybe even more so than new. And you may have heard of Terracycle and Afrigadget , which demonstrate how everything, and I mean everything, with a little ingenuity, can be reused in some form or fashion.

So, my question for us all in 2010 is "Can we be doing more? What kind of imagination can we apply to ensuring that boxes (and resources in general) are not overlooked for their usefulness? What extended life can we give to those things we create and what can we conserve in their creation?"

Technology, while providing a lot of efficiency advantages, is a big offender in terms of lifecycle impacts, which I discuss at greater length in my book. While there are many companies that have done a lot to reduce the environmental impact of their products, such as Apple, there is still more to be done. How can we all take advantage of the advances of the digital age without having to upgrade every year?

We are going to need to retool not only the design of solutions, but also the business models of companies that rely on short deployment cycles. It also requires a readjustment on our part - as consumers - to look at how to extend the life of the things we purchase. Ultimately, we all need to do our part to reduce the resource consumption that occurs in the development, manufacturing, distribution, use and disposal of each product we purchase. (With the world's population estimated to grow to 9 billion by mid-century, the strain is only going to get worse on all of our resources.)

We, excuse the pun, need to think more outside of the box to identify new, ingenious ways to use the things we have. Businesses need to drive efficiencies, which often translate into cost savings and potential competitive advantage, to create processes and solutions that extend the life and reduce the impact of those things they produce. Children don't see a box, they see possibilities. We need to do the same thing.

You will excuse me now - I have to go pull my girls around the floor in their "fancy" box!

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