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How a Small Sticker Made a Big Impact on Reducing Carton Waste

- April 17, 2017 - 2 Comments

This post was written by guest blogger Yuji Suzuki, Manager of Japan Manufacturing Operations.

Think of a large piece of Cisco equipment, like a carrier-class router. Now picture the product’s shipping carton: it’s a side carton that’s over seven feet (2220mm) long. Somewhere in transit, this large carton sustains a visible surface tear.

Now imagine a sticker about the size of a shipping label, and sometimes, even smaller. We call this sticker an “EcoPatch.” We place the EcoPatch over that surface tear.

This small EcoPatch seal has saved the enormous carton from the scrapheap (The cartons have to be scrapped and not recycled due to Japan’s Customs House rules for items that have not cleared customs).

Perhaps the EcoPatch doesn’t sound like a remedy with a big environmental impact or business value. But here’s how much the EcoPatch program has saved Cisco in Japan in just the last three quarters (May 2016 to January 2017):

Cartons Saved From Being Scrapped

Total Material Saved (Pounds)

Reduction in CO2e (KG)

2,656

6,314

7,234.81

Improving Relationships with Customers while Reducing Reboxing

Japanese customers have very strong sensibilities about quality. We are grateful for their high standards (it is, after all, the reason they are such loyal Cisco customers!). But one source of customer dissatisfaction is damaged cartons. In fact, Japanese customers will often suggest a product is damaged if the carton is damaged, and request an exchange.

In the past, products were even returned as dead on arrival (DOA), despite the fact that the product had never been unpacked. Imagine the cost, waste, and frustration associated with processing a DOA for a good product.

Twelve years ago, we implemented a process called “reboxing” to help address this challenge. Once we confirm the product is not damaged, the damaged cartons are replaced at a warehouse operated by one of our largest logistics partners at Narita Airport.

Our Japan Manufacturing Operations team developed extremely detailed criteria for carton damage to eliminate subjectivity and variability in judgments. This gave us a framework to determine exactly when a package needed reboxing; our sales partners embraced the new criteria.

It was a good step, even as we worked toward our greater goal of finding and correcting the root causes of damage in the supply chain. We shared the damage criteria with logistics partners to improve the condition of cartons shipped to Narita.

Avoiding Reboxing: Were We Missing Another Piece?

About four years ago, our team started exploring the idea of “repairing” cartons instead of simply reboxing. By studying historical data, it was clear we could save significantly more boxes from being scrapped if we could simply repair them.

A large portion of boxes had the kind of damage that could be sealed with a simple adhesive patch.

That was the origin of the EcoPatch.

Involving Cisco Partners

The EcoPatch program is a local program for the Japanese market. It isn’t written into a contract with our sales channel partners. Rather, we’ve worked with each partner individually to convey the unique value of the program and ask for participation.

In the program’s first year, one partner worked with us. By the second year, five partners were EcoPatch project participants. And today, we have 12 partners; combined, they represent 70 percent of all products sold and shipped into Japan. We continue to reach out to more partners, with the goal of extending the EcoPatch solution to at least 90 percent of Cisco products coming into Japan.

We always want to express our appreciation for the involvement of our partners, as this is a completely voluntary program. Its success depends on their enthusiasm, which is why we thank them every time we send out a box with an EcoPatch.

Next to the patch, we include another label that says:

Other Savings with EcoPatch

One of Cisco’s logistics partners maintains the warehouse at Narita airport, where they handle all product reboxing. In any given quarter, we might see anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 cartons processed through this logistics partner.

To ensure we’re always prepared to replace any incoming damaged cartons, we have a contract to maintain a large inventory of Cisco cartons of all shapes and sizes.

Over three years, we’ve collected enough data on the EcoPatch program to tell us—with confidence—that we will have a much lower reboxing volume, thanks to the EcoPatch option. This will allow us to renegotiate the contract with this logistics partner for a lower rate that reflects:

  • Reduced warehouse space required to store spare boxes
  • Reduced labor costs associated with unpacking and reboxing products
  • Reduced labor costs and other fees associated with scrapping boxes

Do We Want More EcoPatches?

As you can tell, we track EcoPatch statistics with avid interest. We know we can continue to use the EcoPatch to improve our “avoidance” numbers and reduce the number of cartons we must rebox.

But the future isn’t a graph that shows an endless upward trend in the application of the EcoPatch; the graph we are working towards is the one that shows a downward trend in carton damage until it is eliminated entirely.

I’m extremely proud of our contribution to reducing Cisco’s impact on the environment. But our ultimate goal is to see the EcoPatch become a piece—about the size of a label—of Cisco’s sustainability legacy.

Cisco’s Japan Manufacturing Operations team.

Lastly, I want express my appreciation to the sales partners that participate in the EcoPatch program and also thank my staff members who lead and drive the EcoPatch program. And special thanks to senior quality engineer Hirotaka Miyazawa for his initiative and hard work on the discussions and collaboration with sales partners.


In addition to his role as the manager of Japan’s Manufacturing Operations, Yuji Suzuki is a Business Unit (BU) Champion for Cisco’s “Make IT Green” Program. This is an initiative led by the Cisco global supply chain organization.

The goal of the program is to work with BUs around the world to find opportunities to minimize packaging and product waste, lower our carbon footprint, and think more about sustainability in product design.

Abbey Burns is the sustainability manager for the Supply Chain Value Protection team, which is responsible for the Make IT Green program. The EcoPatch program is one of 62 active Make IT Green projects across 21 BUs.

“The EcoPatch is a triple win: It reduces our impact on the planet, reduces our costs, and improves customer satisfaction,” Abbey says.

“This idea has not only achieved this in Japan, it has also sparked many conversations about how to apply the EcoPatch to other regions. That’s one of the things that is most exciting about employee-led projects: they create a buzz among colleagues and co-workers. It’s a deep reservoir of innovation and ingenuity that comes from one person and inspires many more people.”

As Manager of Japan Manufacturing Operations, Yuji Suzuki is responsible for managing quality engineers and program managers in Japan. He is the primary escalation point for product quality incidents in Japan and interfaces with manufacturing management globally to resolve complex product quality problems. He regularly interacts with major sales partners and executes strategic delivery to customers in Japan.

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2 Comments

    This is a really neat solution to a very wasteful problem! Congrats!

  1. What a great program, congrats to the entire team that worked on this!

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