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Summary:

If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably seen the latest Apple ad spot on television by now. The company is touting the new unibody MacBook as "green" for the environmentally conscious. I’m in that group myself with a hybrid car, a solar-powered attic fan and […]

Packagingfront

If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably seen the latest Apple ad spot on television by now. The company is touting the new unibody MacBook as "green" for the environmentally conscious. I’m in that group myself with a hybrid car, a solar-powered attic fan and as a fanatic about recycling. No scrap of paper in our home is safe from the recycling bin, not even the puny little ATM and purchase reciepts I get at WaWa. We’re getting ready to start composting in the near future as well.

From my perspective then, it’s nice to see Apple’s green take on the new MacBook. That’s why I was flabbergasted to see my Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter today packaged in a box that’s at least as big as the one my MacBook came in.

You can see from the top and side views that the cardboard packaging is nearly identical to the pretty box that contained my MacBook, power adapter, DVDs and documentation. Plus there was plastic in there to neatly organize and hold all of that.

Packagingtop Packagingside_2

By contrast, the plain cardboard box I received today contained the Mini DisplayPort adapter, a packing slip and two plastic airbags to cushion my accessory. And one of the two was punctured, but that’s just nitpicking. The fact is: there’s no need for Apple, or any company for that matter, to ship a roughly five-inch adapter cable in a box that could fit a full thirteen-inch notebook and associated bits. "Green" advertising aside, this is simply sad, if not hypocritical.

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Think I’m too sensitive on this issue? Perhaps. But don’t just look at my words, take those of Apple’s direct from their web-page touting their commitment to the environment:

"The new MacBook packaging is up to 41 percent smaller than the previousgeneration. And smaller boxes are much better for the planet. Becausesmaller boxes mean we can fit more boxes on each shipping pallet — upto 25 percent more. Which means more products will fit on each boat andplane. Which means fewer boats and planes are used, resulting in fewerCO2 emissions. It’s just one seemingly minor change. But it has a majorpositive impact on our environment."

That’s great for the MacBook. Not so much for Apple-branded accessories purchased through the Apple on-line store. You’d think that Apple would have learned this lesson when they shipped those small Phone 3G power adapters in packaging as big as a brick. And just for the record: I’ll be using the Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter with an Energy Star LCD monitor.

  1. In a different experience, a BTO MacBook Pro with both the VGA and DVI adapters ordered at the same time had the two adapters in a small plastic sealed package in the same box as the MBP, very much like all other accessories previously (and currently) included. Don’t know if the MB didn’t have the box room or the order was different (standard configs and not a BTO), but my experience was certainly quite different.

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  2. I was going to make comment on something similar when i write a review of the iphone case i ordered. The box it came in was big enough to house at least 2.5 times the size of the product within and, because it was so large, the postman broke my letterbox forcing it through!!! Om the last part is hardly apples fault, not directly anyway, but come on apple – SORT IT OUT.

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  3. GoodThings2Life Monday, December 1, 2008

    Wasteful packaging is just obnoxious, and I’m hardly a “green freak”. I’m all in favor of improving energy efficiency AND effectiveness while providing cost effectiveness, and I’m all in favor of minimizing waste.

    So why do companies do this? Hype. Apple (like so many others) made a purely market-sensitive decision rather than a genuinely eco-friendly decision.

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  4. Unfortunately, we’re kinda comparing Apples to Oranges with the shipping comparison above (pun intended).

    I’ll first offer a caveat – I am by no means an expert in this area. I have only learned by reading, and applying different pieces of knowledge based on talking to people in the shipping industry. OK, now to my point…

    When looking at “shipping efficiency”, you can’t compared sea-based to land-/air-based shipping. You also can’t compare bulk-shipping to consumer-shipping.

    When shipping by sea, the biggest factor is volume. When I ship a trans-oceanic container, for the most part, the company doesn’t care if I’m shipping lead bricks or pillows. Because of the mechanics involved (water displacement), the “cost” to ship a single container remains pretty much the same (i.e. moving ship forward in water – the water is doing all the work in handling the weight). However, double the packaging size, and your shipping costs (and energy costs) have just doubled (i.e. I can ship half as much in the same container). In other words, with smaller packaging, when shipping laptops in bulk, Apple has now halved the cost of shipping (and halved the energy).

    When shipping by land or sea, the reverse is true. It’s based on weight. In fact, Apple’s smaller packaging now makes a palette of MacBooks MORE EXPENSIVE (cost & energy) because you have more heavy computers (compared to light foam) on a single truck/plane.

    Now, it terms of overly excessive package size when it comes to shipping to the consumer, the shipping industry often asks the shippers to standardise their boxes. Why? Because they can pack them more efficiently. With a fixed box size, there is a certain pattern that they can get as many on a palette as possible.

    In fact, I’d be willing to be that the box size you have above is very close (exact?) to the size of a USPS Priority Mail Box, or a FedEx box, or a UPS box. It’s designed to efficiently (re: energy) get us, the consumer, the product as fast & cheap as possible. And it can be actually more energy efficient.

    As a comparison, think of filling a shopping cart – a lot of random sized objects and the cart is full pretty quickly. But put in the same sized object (a la boxes of holiday cards), and they stack beautifully. You’ll notice, though, that you’re cart is heavier, and you need to use a lot more energy to move it around.

    Now, am I saying there isn’t room for improvement? No, absolutely not. Given the number of adapters Apple is shipping, perhaps they could get a 1/2 sized box. But just to note, it’d save the world some paper (easily recycled) – but it wouldn’t save energy. It would cost the same energy because you’re shipping more weight in the same volume (see heavier shopping cart example above).

    Yes, complex issue – and granted, perceptions are a big part of it, but there are a lot of factors to consider.

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  5. Like Mark above my MacBook arrived with the accessories (both video adapters) in the main box. I thought at first they were going to ship in another package and was surprised that they were there.

    We also recycle so the big cardboard box wouldn’t bother me much.

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  6. They figure the larger box will make your $29 purchase seem more justifiable. ;)

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  7. Maybe they’d run out of smaller boxes when they shipped your order and, in order to ship it to you without added delay, just stuck it into whatever size box they had. I know for a fact that Apple has smaller boxes because my wife’s iPod shuffle arrived in one that was big enough for a DVI adapter.

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  8. GoodThings2Life Monday, December 1, 2008

    Troy, that is by far the most absurd explanation I’ve ever heard about shipping. The box probably weighs more than the adapter, and the size of it just invites more chance of damage since delivery trucks are often cramming as much as they can onto the trucks. And frankly, am I the only one who thinks the adapter should come with the laptop in the first place?

    Heck, even the Simpsons spent their episode last night poking fun at Apple’s often-ridiculous tendencies.

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  9. TroyG: your explanation on the difference between air/land and sea based shipping is correct, but your conclusion about air/land shipping is innacurate.

    You need to consider the shipping costs PER UNIT shipped (even if its true that a single air/land cargo will be more expensive because of weight). In this case, less packaging (regardless of volume) will always result in less costly and more energy-saving shipping. The same is true for sea based shipping of course.

    In the sea-based case, there is a clear incentive in reducing packaging (because it reduces volume and ergo, costs of shipping). But in the air/land case, the incentive is a bit less clear, since packaging is not all that heavy; therefore, companies need to have more of a “green” attitude to modify their production processes, resulting in investment needed to reduce the packaging (with a smaller effect on their bottom line compared to sea-based shipping.

    All in all, less packaging is better for the environment, and better for $ savings for everyone (companies and consumers).

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  10. Hey Fernando – definitely agree with many of your points. I think I was more getting the perspective across that this is a complex supply-chain issue, and not as simple as “Apple bad because of big packaging” emotional resopnse.

    The volume perspective is interesting because it opens a whole new realm of (and I’m not even sure what to call it) “stacking efficiency”. But in a nutshell, it’s the reason why I can send a heavy package in a standard box, and pay less than a lighter package in a non-standard box (i.e. USPS Priority Mail boxes). Having a standard size allows “more dense” packing, which reduces costs (and I’m referring to long-distance movements – not the final mile when the delivery person brings it to your door).

    Anyway, always good to see there are people thinking this through, and reductions in packaging are good for everyone. But it really needs to be an end-to-end effort by both the suppliers AND the shipping companies.

    Of course, it could be just as simple as “Apple ran out of small boxes” as someone pointed out in another forum. HA HA Cheers…

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