Protective product packaging

IBM's corporate environmental requirements for product packaging are included in our environmental packaging guidelines, which were first published in 1990 and have been updated as needed over the years. Key elements of IBM's packaging guidelines have been embedded in various engineering specifications and procurement documents, which extend their reach to include our supply chain and other business partners.

IBM has had a program focused on the environmental attributes of its product packaging since the late 1980s. Under the program, IBM packaging engineers design solutions that minimize toxic substances and packaging waste by specifying nontoxic materials and inks. We keep packaging to a minimum while continuing to provide protection to the product being shipped. We also collaborate with suppliers to use recycled and recyclable materials and promote reuse. The design of rugged products, the efficient use of protective product packaging, and the environmental benefits resulting from improvements in transportation efficiency are addressed and tracked though this program. Key elements of IBM's packaging guidelines have also been embedded in various engineering specifications and procurement documents which can be found on IBM's information for suppliers webpage.

IBM's environmental packaging requirements incorporate a list of the most commonly used packaging materials. Each is evaluated on a variety of environmental criteria. When options are available, suppliers are required to choose the material that has the least adverse effect on the environment. The materials listed are based on practical and regulatory experience and customer feedback. Other environmental areas addressed in the packaging requirements include:

All product packaging suppliers that pack/ship products to customers on behalf of IBM worldwide must submit required packaging environmental compliance data to IBM, along with other relevant packaging compliance and performance data, through web-enabled tools. Any suppliers with a non-conformance must submit and implement supplier improvement plans to close out the identified issues within an agreed timeframe. Applying this process to packaging suppliers worldwide ensures ongoing compliance with IBM's environmental product packaging requirements.


Packaging reduction and improvements

In 2014, the global packaging engineering team saved an estimated 101.6 metric tons of packaging materials through the implementation of two significant packaging redesign projects for parts and assemblies shipped from suppliers to IBM fulfillment locations. These projects delivered an annual materials and transportation cost savings estimated at $2 million.

IBM packaging engineers in the United States and China worked in conjunction with several IBM suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging used to ship parts into IBM fulfillment sites. They designed and tested packaging that reduced packaging materials by as much as two-thirds and decreased the packaging size. This also improved space utilization in transit, and lowered the per-unit fossil-fuel consumption and emissions.

IBM also implemented a new packaging material called RESTORE Mushroom Packaging, to protect our large mainframe computers during domestic US shipping. This material is made from mushroom mycelium (roots) combined with agricultural waste (corn stalks). This mixture is placed in a mold and allowed to grow under ambient temperatures. The product is then removed from the mold and heat-treated. IBM attaches these mushroom cushions to a corrugate end cap, which is then placed on the outside of the mainframe for product protection.


Sourcing of paper and paper/wood-based packaging material

IBM established its voluntary environmental goal for the responsible sourcing of paper and paper/wood-based packaging in 2002. It stated that the paper and paper/wood-based packaging directly acquired by IBM should be procured from suppliers that source from sustainably managed forests, where such sources exist.

When this goal was first established, sufficient quantities of sustainably sourced paper and packaging materials were not available to meet our needs. In 2014, after a continued focus on this objective by IBM and our suppliers over the years, 99 percent of the paper and paper/wood-based packaging IBM procured worldwide came from suppliers that warranted that the source was derived from forests managed in an ecologically sound and sustainable manner. This requirement is now incorporated into our standard supplier specification for paper/wood-based packaging.