Muda Maximus

What is the Opposite of Green?

March 09, 2009

As fully participating members of the consuming public, we have all experienced packaging excesses to varying degrees, from mountains of unnecessary foam peanuts to impervious plastic clamshells requiring a hack-saw to free the imprisoned contents. But recently, I have witnessed a tragicomic level of packaging absurdity that sets the ultimate standard of wastefulness.

A couple of months ago, I received notification from Apple that the transformer in the charging unit for my new iPhone was defective. Actually, since my whole family had purchased iPhones, there were 4 chargers to replace. I went online and entered the serial numbers for our phones, and ordered the new chargers. The process was pretty easy to navigate, which is really important in a warranty situation. So far, so good. A couple of weeks later, four boxes showed up on the front porch. I didn't immediately make the connection, but these were indeed the warranty replacements from Apple. Why didn’t I make the connection?

For starters, each box was large enough to hold at least 50 of the charging units, as shown to the left. In spite of the durable nature of the transformers (small plugs encased in tough plastic), Apple saw fit to surround them, individually, with 196 square inches (3,081 square cm) of protective foam and cardboard. Compounding the effect, there were FOUR boxes, even though four chargers could have easily fit into one box with room for another 46 or so. It's as if the designers of this packaging approach were competing to demonstrate as many of the 7 forms of waste as possible in a single product. Surely, this total packaging design has the highest ratio of unnecessary materials, greenhouse gasses, and excess volume to shipped product of any warranty replacement charger in the history of electronics. As such, we have established a new award to recognize this singular achievement: the Muda Maximus (Muda is a Japanese word for "waste"). Apple is the 2008 winner! To be fair and balanced, the iPhone is great and Apple has made great strides in greening its laptop packaging and laptop recyclability.

But if we needed any further reminding that the world abounds in Lean Six Sigma opportunities, here is further evidence that as long as there are people, there will be faulty processes and thoughtless product designs in need of improvement.