Sustainability

From “Hubble” Beginnings: A Conversation with our Leader of Packaging Innovation

Have you ever ordered fragile items from Wayfair and wondered how they get delivered seamlessly? As an e-commerce company, preparing products for a secure journey to our customers is a top priority. Our packaging innovation team consists of packing engineers who focus on creating and testing high-quality packaging that keeps products safe, while using as little material as possible in an effort to reduce our impact on the planet. The team also focuses on packaging for the future, including exploring the use of new and innovative materials, utilizing materials with a higher percentage of recycled content, and working to create packaging that is easily curbside recyclable.

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At Wayfair, James Eyerman, our senior manager of Packaging Innovation, leads the charge to ensure products are properly packaged so they arrive safely at our customers’ homes. Amazingly, for the past year, James has tackled this feat from his garage office while working from home during the pandemic.

James, tell us a little about your work. What’s the most unique product you’ve ever designed packaging for? 

“At a past job, I worked on packaging design for replacement parts for the Hubble Space Telescope. The most unique project I’ve worked on at Wayfair was working with a supplier that manufactures underground dog houses.”

How has the shift to remote work affected your day-to-day?
“Part of our job as packaging engineers is to review our suppliers’ current packaging methods and provide recommendations for improvement. Previously, this was typically handled on-site at a supplier’s facility, whereas now we are conducting product testing at home and then hopping on a call to discuss results with suppliers. Since we’re constantly testing packaging on a variety of different products, my garage has ended up looking like a warehouse over the past year.”

What’s your process for testing the packaging of our products?
“Part of my day-to-day revolves around physical testing of packaging and the remainder of my time is focused on analyzing testing results and collaborating with internal and external partners to improve packaging performance. Our testing protocols are designed to mimic what small parcel items experience during a typical distribution cycle from the fulfillment center to a customer’s doorstep. We also send test shipments around the country to see if the items arrive safely or damaged. If any test shipment items arrive damaged and we determine packing is the cause, we quickly work with the suppliers to try to adjust the packaging design for future orders.”

What happens to the Wayfair products when you’re done with testing?
“We donate most undamaged items through our partnership with Habitat for Humanity. For quality purposes, occasionally we’ll return the items back to their original suppliers so their supplier team has the opportunity to review and analyze the product after its shipment test. We also work to properly recycle all sample shipment packaging materials.”

How do you incorporate a sustainability mindset into your work?
“The key thing when designing packaging is to make sure you use the correct amount of packaging. Too much packaging is wasteful, but too little packaging could cause the item not to arrive safely. We know most consumers want as little packaging as possible and we’re solving to figure out the exact amount of packaging required. We’re mindful that if we include too little packaging, it would likely result in a more wasteful process, as both the packaging and product will be thrown away if items arrive damaged and nonfunctional.

My team also works with our suppliers and reviews their protective packaging methods and materials. We encourage suppliers to use as much recyclable, or made-from-recycled-content, packaging as possible.”

When you’re not thinking about packaging, what do you enjoy doing outside of work? 
“I love spending time with my two boys. They take up most of my free time, but when they’re asleep I really enjoy woodworking and making furniture. One of many benefits of working for Wayfair is seeing all the different types of furniture, which inspires my creativity as a woodworker.”

Wayfair is committed to taking an active stand to protect our environment. Read more about Wayfair’s sustainability initiatives here .

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