Those wooden shipping pallets? Not so innocent after all.

Published on May 16, 2019

Every year in the United States, billions of  wood-shipping pallets are used to move products all around the country.

But wooden pallet technology is outdated, hugely inefficient, and requires an excessive number of trucks, resulting in an obscene amount of carbon emissions. (Cough.) Not only are these pallets bad for the environment, but their nails, splinters, and weight cause a significant amount of injury to workers around the country.

Enter Change the Pallet: an Oregon-based nonprofit that advocates on behalf of cardboard pallet technology for its proven ability to reduce carbon emissions, waste, and worker injuries. And it’s not just a concept that looks good on paper, it’s been put to practice for years.

IKEA drops the wood (version)

For example, in 2012, IKEA directed their more than 1000 global suppliers – spanning 51 countries – to ship to them on cardboard pallets. The results have been impressive. In addition to reporting an annual savings of $200 million on shipping costs alone, IKEA has also reported using 20-30% fewer trucks to ship the same amount of product (because cardboard pallets allow more product to fit on to a truck), or about 50,000 to 100,000 fewer trucks on the road every year.

This reduction in fuel and trucks has led to at least 75,000 fewer metric tons of emissions, annually. It is results such as these that have emboldened Change the Pallet to focus their initiatives on triggering systemic change.

Central to this focus is their latest initiative, which recently resulted in twenty senior university and college officials, global sustainability leaders, and retired U.S. Army Colonels signing a letter to the CEOs of more than 30 U.S. companies that service the public sector. The “Joint Letter to Suppliers” calls on companies such as Apple, Dell, Nike, and Aramark to replace wood and plastic pallets with lightweight, recyclable corrugated cardboard pallets for shipments to campuses and government facilities.

The letter, which encloses a fact sheet titled “How Corrugated Pallets Reduce Emissions” and the testimony of an IKEA store manager detailing the efficacy and benefits of IKEA’s switch to corrugated pallets, was also sent to the CEOs of several Group Purchasing Organizations, which are responsible for shipments to scores of university and college campuses.

AASHE, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability USA joined CTP and fifteen senior higher education officials. AASHE and ICLEI represent hundreds of global member institutions and cities working toward lower carbon footprints via scale-able, cost-advantageous technologies.

In a chat with Grit Daily, AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser observed that “Higher education institutions hold significant purchasing power and can, therefore, facilitate meaningful change.” Three retired Army Colonels also signed the letter, including COL Darrel Larson (ret.), who has taken this idea to the Pentagon and Army Logistics Command.

According to Larson: “Our country can save billions of dollars annually by simply swapping out pallets but, today, DOD and DLA (and many leading grocers and retailers) actually prohibit shipments on corrugated pallets. Hopefully, this letter will get the attention of the Armed Services Committee.”

Mr. Roger Ballentine, who served President Clinton as Chairman of the White House Climate Change Task Force and Deputy Assistant to the President for Environmental Initiatives, is also a signatory. Mr. Ballentine designed and implemented many of the federal government’s sustainable procurement systems that are still in place today.

Looking to get more involved with environmental causes? Check out Grit Daily’s latest on the subject, here.

Lauren Gill is a Columnist at Grit Daily. She covers entrepreneurship, emerging business, life lessons, STEM, and women-owned businesses.

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