IBM developed its Packaging Guidelines back in 1990 and they are updated periodically. The Guidelines called for the banning of ozone-depleting chemicals and heavy
metals from IBM's packaging and the elimination of polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated biphenyl oxides from all
its packaging, all of which were accomplished a number of years ago. The Guidelines also provide direction
on minimizing toxic elements in packaging materials, identifying methods, process and designs to reduce packaging
volume, and promoting the use of packaging materials that are reusable, recyclable and/or contain recycled
For specific requirements and details, see "Packaging requirements" on the Information for suppliers web page.
The key elements of IBM's Packaging Guidelines have been embedded into various Engineering Specifications, which extends
their reach beyond IBM to include its supply chain and other business partners.
In 2012, our integrated worldwide packaging engineering team saved an estimated 1,400 metric tons
of packaging materials through the implementation of 50 packaging redesign projects for parts and
assemblies shipped from suppliers to manufacturing operations, and for packaged finished products supplied to
clients worldwide. These projects delivered an annual materials and transport cost savings of nearly $17.3 million. The following
are highlights of a few of the key projects implemented:
- The second-tier chassis supplier for IBM's Power Systems servers ships packaged parts to the first-tier fabrication supplier for additional manufacturing value-add. In these shipments, the packaging from the first shipment was discarded and new packaging was used to subsequently transport the finished goods from the first-tier fabrication supplier to IBM for final customer configuration.
Working with both suppliers, IBM arranged for the packaging from the second-tier chassis supplier to be reused by the first-tier supplier to transport the completed assembly to IBM, thereby eliminating one set of packaging. In addition, the thickness of the polyethylene bag used to protect the equipment from moisture and scratching during shipment was reduced, while still retaining the protective quality. Total savings of 117 metric tons of packaging materials were delivered annually, with total materials and transport costs savings of $288,000 per year.
- In collaboration with a supplier of planar sub-assemblies for IBM Power Systems, we determined that the corrugated fiberboard cushioning being used could be eliminated because the polyethylene foam was sufficient for cushioning the product. As a result, additional parts are now packed into the original corrugated fiberboard carton. The enhanced design saved nearly 19 metric tons per year in packaging materials, with a combined materials and transport cost savings of $246,000 per year.
- The IBM System Storage DS2000 and DS3000 series models originally had been packed separately from the accessories on a pallet. After packaging design enhancements, the accessories were able to be combined into a single, smaller corrugated fiberboard carton for shipment to clients. This redesign saved 9.5 metric tons per year of packaging materials and provided a total materials and transport cost savings of $82,000 per year.
- All IBM System x server switch assemblies were shipped from IBM's manufacturing sites to customers in a corrugated fiberboard carton incorporating polyethylene (PE) cushioning. Our packaging design engineers were able to reduce the overall dimensions of the carton and replace the PE cushion with a lighter, but stronger, thermoformed PE cushion, made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled polyethylene. These design initiatives saved 3.4 metric tons per year of corrugated fiberboard and plastic packaging materials, with an annual combined materials and transport cost savings of $274,000. Similar projects were implemented globally across different products during the year.
When suppliers apply the design improvements achieved through collaboration with IBM to packaging designs for other customers, the environmental benefits and cost savings can be far-reaching.
In addition to the above, IBM has gone well beyond the legal requirements in packaging. The following are some examples of the company's
- banned the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in our packaging
- banned the use of free flowing cushioning materials (such as "plastic peanuts")
- banned the use of permanently commingled but dissimilar materials except in cases where they're part of reusable
packaging designs or where technically required to ensure product quality (example: static shielding
bags). This improves the recyclability of IBM's packaging when no longer in use.
- developed a chart of environmentally preferable packaging materials and graded them into four categories:
1) Green (Best, Expand usage), 2) Yellow (Acceptable), Red (Poor, avoid), Black (banned completely). This
has been added to IBM's General Packaging Specification and therefore applies to both the company's suppliers
and IBM. The goal is to move up the chart as much as possible.
IBM Packaging Requirements Manual (990KB)
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- developed and are currently populating a Master Packaging Database to capture data on the amount and
type of packaging materials used for all of IBM's products, to better enable the measurement of environmentally
- specified the avoidance of methyl bromide (CH3Br) fumigants -- though legally allowed,
methyl bromide is an ozone depleting substance that is still used globally to combat the spread of non-indigenous
pests in wooden packaging. It is allowed by IBM only as a last resort in cases where environmentally preferable
alternatives cannot be found. This pest issue is a significant environmental concern because of the risk
of mass deforestation and its impact on international commerce.
- specified the avoidance of chemical impregnation of wooden packaging even though it is legally allowed
since the chemicals used (copper chromated arsenate) render the wood unfit for recycling or energy recovery.
- pioneered the use of TimberStrandTM in some of IBM's pallets and crates since these materials are rendered
inert to pests during normal manufacturing. This material is made from fast growing and therefore environmentally
preferable Aspen species. More information may be found at:
- pioneered the use of M-GUARDTM in our packaging for shipments of smaller products to China. This allowed us to avoid
the use of much heavier and bulkier wooden crates that were previously required in China. M-GUARD is
a specially treated paper that is made into corrugated boxes and greatly enhances its moisture resistance
while still being completely recyclable unlike some waxy coatings.
- developed a pallet marking scheme which has now been adopted by the USDA and will become part of a
United Nations sponsored specification aimed at harmonizing global standards for wood treatment. The marking scheme
is intended to convey in a language free way which materials are compliant and may be exported. This
will reduce the risk of pest migration, reduce costs and waste for shippers and speed the logistics system
for everyone, not just IBM.
- continued to focus on strategic areas such as product ruggedness and carrier handling. If our already rugged
products can become more so and if we can get carriers to "soften the ride" then less packaging will be required
and this is the goal of source reduction.
Moreover, IBM has freely shared its environmental packaging specifications with anyone, including competitors.