When minimizing the amount of material used in your packaging you want to ship the least amount of air possible.
A benchmark to strive for is to have little to no void left around the product. You can accomplish material reduction while accounting for protective packaging around cold chain or breakable products.
To further cut down on material usage, you can go beyond surface area and consider thickness. For example, many brands default to B-flute when designing a box, but smaller, lighter products can ship in E-flute, which is thinner. E-flute provides adequate protection for lightweight items and uses 9% less paper (take-up). Similarly, 2mil is the standard thickness for poly mailers, but 1.5mil uses 25% less material and is adequate for shipping low-weight apparel shipments.
Material usage is the main driver of your packaging carbon footprint 1. When you can cut inches off of dieline, you not only cut down on material usage, but freight emissions, storage space, and last-mile emissions.
Why choose it
Material usage directly correlates to your carbon footprint1. The less you use, the less electricity is used in production, fuel burned in transit, and space used in storage. Material is also the primary driver of cost. When you use less material, chances are, your cost per shipment will decrease.
If your product line is fairly small, you’re a great contender for material reduction because there are fewer potential order combinations. You may be able to use 2-3 box SKUs that can accommodate most orders without shipping excess air.
Why not choose it
If you have a large product assortment, there may be too many variations to accommodate in a manageable number of SKUs. Optimizing several box sizes to fit each variation is not only costly, but you risk adding more waste and transit to your supply chain. Some SKUs may need constant restocking while others go unused, taking up storage space.
In this case, it may be simpler for fulfillment to pick a few general box sizes that accommodate most orders. Other sustainability properties may be a better fit for your company.
Daniel Binkoski. How to Estimate the Carbon Footprint of Your Packaging (Lumi, 2020)