Totally organic packaging gains favor with Steelcase Inc

June 7, 2010
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NeoCon brings to mind innovative products: chairs, tables, desks, lighting. But could the most innovative solution at this year’s NeoCon be packaging?

On the opening day of NeoCon, Steelcase will announce its plan to ship certain products using EcoCradle packaging, which was developed by New York-based Ecovative Design LLC, a natural composite materials company.

EcoCradle is a bio-based packaging material made from agricultural byproducts such as oats or rice. The bonding agent is mushroom roots. The roots are liquefied and when the cells interact with the agricultural byproducts, a reaction takes place that binds the materials together and creates a solid product.

“A couple of young inventors have developed a way to take mushroom roots and take the cells and combine that with agricultural byproducts. Literally, we are now growing packaging,” said Dennis Carlson, Steelcase’s manager of packaging and logistics for North America. “That bonding agent really pulls the whole thing together. It acts like yeast and bread.”

The packaging uses 10 times less energy than traditional petroleum-based packaging and eight times fewer CO2 emissions on a per unit basis. Carlson said that roughly 50 percent of the current petroleum-based packaging ends up in landfills and never biodegrades. EcoCradle is completely biodegradable in 30 to 45 days.

“We’re growing the packaging. It’s totally organic, and at the end of its useful life, you can either reuse it, or break it up and throw it in your garden,” he said.

Steelcase has moved its packaging design to the beginning stages of product design: When a new product is being created, Steelcase already is considering how it can be shipped.

“EcoCradle is just one example of changes we are making as part of a broader strategic packaging initiative,” said Carlson.

“We will continue to adapt our packaging and distribution systems to optimize transport, reduce environmental impact and support local communities. We look forward to integrating this additional packaging throughout our portfolio as part of this overall strategy.”

Besides the environmental impact of EcoCradle, the product also gives a slight economic boost to regional farmers. The product’s business model utilizes locally grown materials by purchasing the agricultural byproduct from regional farmers who would otherwise throw those materials away.

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