Spotlight stories

Sustainable packaging by customizing

Cutting CO2 with custom sustainable packaging

How many times have you opened a gigantic box only to find a tiny product inside? Maybe what you ordered was damaged, or maybe you just thought to yourself, ‘what a waste of packaging’. Enter Manyfolds, a custom sustainable packaging scale-up committed to making excess packaging a thing of the past.

With the Manyfolds platform, e-commerce retailers can easily input product information and quickly produce custom-made cardboard packaging. Using a Manyfolds rented machine or with an external partner, that’s a perfect fit for even the oddest shapes, whether they need 20 or 20,000. It’s the perfect solution for slashing packaging waste, protecting fragile products, and creating a high-end unboxing experience for the end customer: a true win-win-win.

Econnections sat down with co-founders Sebastian Gutmann and Frank Thomsen to learn more about their vision, their journey, and how they’re making sustainable custom packaging the norm in e-commerce.

Let’s start at the very beginning. How did you come up with the idea for Manyfolds?
Frank: The basic idea came to me when I was an innovation consultant with a big IT firm here in Munich. I was doing a lot of design thinking workshops, where you need to build things out of cardboard. I was really fed up and I thought, there must be some kind of software to create foldable objects that you can print out or produce right away with a machine.

(Spoiler alert: there wasn’t.) So how did that seed idea turn into a sustainable packaging business?
Frank: The first thing I did was build a machine and the software to make foldable furniture. Then I met Sebastian, and he said, wouldn’t the market be bigger in packaging?

Sometimes the best ideas come from collaboration. What’s been your biggest challenge since moving into the packaging world?
Sebastian: We’re doing a very new thing there. And what we found is that it’s so new, people sometimes don’t believe it works. Once they see the entire system working, that you have very simple software and a machine that produces it all, they have this eureka moment: oh my god, it really does work.

It can be difficult to convince people that the future is now! Can you tell us about one of your favorite customer success stories?
Sebastian: We have a lot of smaller customers who usually come to us for packaging they just can’t get anywhere else, because the volume they’re ordering is too low for standard processes or way too expensive. So we have a company that ships drinks, and every now and then they need 200 packages to ship bottles out. It’s impossible for them to get this quality of packaging for this price anywhere else. And usually once they’ve worked with us, they come back time and again, for that and the process stability.
Frank: Right, it’s process-stable packaging, so three people can pack a box and it will be exactly the same, all three times. Sebastian: That also generates a lot of interest from industry partners, like IKEA.

And you’re partnering with IKEA Netherlands on a pilot as part of the Econnections program. Can you share a bit more about that?
Sebastian: We’re exploring options with IKEA for shipping orders in a safer way, to reduce breakage during shipment by improving the overall quality of the packaging itself. Using fewer resources for packing material will reduce returns as well. Reducing returns actually has a big impact on CO2 footprint, because if you can reduce one return, you can basically reduce two shipments, which is an important factor. In this way, our sustainable packaging contribute to a greener world.
Frank: Our goal is to reduce average amount of air in a package by 30%, which also means 30% more space in a truck.

So your packaging actually has a knock-on sustainability effect across the whole chain.
Frank: Right, the value chain actually can be much more efficient with our technology. And pre-planning for the logistics chain can start right at the beginning, when the digital packaging is created. So with bigger industry partners, they’ll have the packaging in digital form sooner and can plan ahead in a much more effective way. Sebastian: And we can supply that data to PostNL, for example, who can send an e-bike instead of a truck. If they don’t have that information, they always have to send a truck.

It sounds like your solutions have the potential to change the whole industry. So what’s next for Manyfolds? Where do you hope to be in five years?
Sebastian: The single point of entry for size-optimized packaging. Frank: We want to be the first choice. So no one even has to ask where to look for optimized packaging or for specialized packaging. They just go to Manyfolds. We want to help reduce the volume of packages considerably and make logistics much more CO2 efficient, to make the world of packaging a better place.

Econnections is an innovation initiative from bol.comDeloitteGoogle CloudIKEAMollie, and PostNL to accelerate sustainability in e-commerce. The program aims to reduce the growing ecological footprint of the e-commerce sector. Its mission is to realize 500 million (more) sustainable online purchases by 2026. Seven scaleups are participating in Econnections 2022; ChargetripDrop & LoopGreenplanManyfolds GmbHOptiplyPlasticFri® and Returnless.


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