Cleverly-designed, reusable packing boxes from eBay feed on people’s desire to recycle. They also brand the business as sensitive to sustainability issues.

One of the simplest, cost-saving ideas (for both individuals and companies) is to reuse packing boxes and materials.

The problem is that new shipping boxes look aesthetically cleaner than boxes with crossed out labels and logos, and they take less time to use. When you reuse a box, you have to go through some pains to hide the fact that its being reused and make it look presentable.

EBay, the online auction company, came up with a great middle solution that not only feeds on people's desire to recycle but helps brand the business as sensitive to sustainability issues.

It's the eBay box, an especially durable cardboard box that needs just a few strips of packing tape to be sealed shut. Covered in perky graphics of little birds and trees, it has text all over the outside and inside that announces, loudly, that this is a box specifically designed to be reused over and over. The inside of the lid even has six little spaces where users can leave notes about where the box has been. Essentially, it invites users and recipients to celebrate the fact that it’s being put to use again.

The idea for the box bubbled up internally at the company. EBay has a Green Team tasked with “inspiring the world to buy, sell and think green every day” (the team even has its own eBay Green Team website). Every spring, eBay hosts an Innovation Expo that invites employees to suggest products and innovations to help buyers and sellers. In 2010, more than 250 employees made suggestions, and 1300 employees, including CEO John Donahoe and founder Pierre Omidyar, listened to pitches and voted on the top entries. The grand prize winner was the eBay box.

Says the Green Team: “we think the idea is actually pretty powerful – especially in a marketplace like eBay where many of our buyers are also sellers and sellers are also buyers.”

EBay partnered with a San Francisco design firm named Office to cute-ify the concept, and began distributing the boxes last fall. Hundreds of eBayers left comments online at the Green Team website about how much they love reusing any boxes and how much they were looking forward to reusing these particular boxes. In May, the project received a prestigious Clio design award.

Said the Green Team in a May blog post:

Since the launch of the pilot eBay reusable Box program, we have given away over 100,000 reusable eBay boxes - each made of 100 percent FSC-certified and recycled material, printed with water-based inks, and designed to require minimal tape across multiple uses. Thanks to eBay sellers and buyers' enthusiasm, we've already had over 1,500 reusable shipping boxes registered and reused. According to eBay's calculations, reusing these 1,500 boxes conserved almost 7,000 gallons of water, energy sufficient to power 13 homes for a week, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 18 cars off the road for a week.

According to Ethisphere, which named eBay's director of global citizenship Robert Chatwani to its 2010 list of the 100 most influential people in business ethics, "Depending on whether or not the boxes stay within the eBay seller/buyer system, the company will decide whether or not it distributes another round of reusable boxes."

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