Special Delivery: How One Box Cuts Packaging in Half: Learn how Nike’s packaging team is ditching the double box to help reduce waste

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Learn how Nike’s packaging team is ditching the double box to help reduce waste — and reimagining what a shoebox can do.
Last updated: April 13, 2022
6 min read

Nike’s One Box Cuts Packaging in Half


Presented by Move To Zero: Nike’s journey toward zero carbon and zero waste to help protect the future of sport.
“Packaging is sometimes an afterthought,” says Rich Hastings, the mastermind behind Nike’s custom shoebox designs for more than 20 years. “But what people may not realize is that it can have a huge impact on the environment.”

You may have noticed that impact when the shoes you bought online arrive in their shoebox, surrounded by another box. “We knew we had the opportunity to make our existing model better,” he says.

Rich and team had the chance to do just that when they worked on the 2020 release of Space Hippie — a line of shoes made with at least 25 percent to 50 percent recycled material by weight that needed an audaciously low-impact container to match their future-focused design.

Nike’s One Box Cuts Packaging in Half


Rich Hastings helped bring One Box to life after working on the Space Hippie box (center) which ditched the box within a
box we’re all familiar with. “Space Hippie was the jumping off point,” says Erica Swanson from sustainable product operations. “We wanted to have an innovative system that shipped a shoe in its own container, rather than shipping a box within another box.”

So when you buy one pair of shoes online, this eliminates an entire box from your order — and your recycling bin. Sounds simple, but like any industry-leading concept, it would take a lot of work to bring to fruition.

Test and Learn​

“It was meant to be a limited release. So we said, ‘Let’s be daring and try something we’re not sure is going to work,’” says Rich of the sneaker collection that shipped in its own oblong shoebox.

“But the shoes were so popular, we had to scale up and fast. We got a lot of feedback that the box wasn’t durable enough to withstand the rigors of shipping, so we got to work updating it based on those learnings.”

Nike’s One Box Cuts Packaging in Half


Erica Swanson is helping take Nike to new heights with One Box. “We learned that 86 percent of consumers said they
would like to work with brands to make them more sustainable,” says Erica. “With One Box, we deliver on this need.”
Rich and team ran a battery of engineering exercises, like crush tests that beat up the box, to make sure it would survive the journey to your door. Those tests helped the team build an even stronger container — and proved that the design could work on a way bigger scale.

The result of dreaming and testing big? Nike One Box. This current design can house almost any shoe Nike makes. And although it may look different from the box that started it all, its intent is the same: reduce waste.

Shipping shoes in their shoebox and ditching the outer box (plus any extra packaging) add up to big wins.

Compared to traditional packaging, One
Box offers a 51 percent reduction in waste
for single online orders regardless of the
shoe inside.​

Nike’s One Box Cuts Packaging in Half


How do you make a box into a breakthrough? According to Chris Conklin, it comes down to obsessing the details.

Less Is More​

“Our team worked together to really obsess over how the customer would interact with the box,” says Chris Conklin from packaging design.

Take a tour through the result of all that detailed work:
Nike’s One Box Cuts Packaging in Half


  1. Stealthy Exterior
    From afar One Box might seem underwhelming — but that’s the whole point. “It was a strategic choice for security,” says Chris of the logo-free design. “We didn’t want the box advertising that new shoes were sitting on your stoop.”
  2. Tape-Free Returns
    The lid of the box is secured with an adhesive strip to cut down on tape waste. But sometimes things don’t work out, so the team knew they also had to solve for how shoppers would handle returns. That’s why they added a second strip of adhesive that lets you reseal the box and return the shoes.
  3. No-Smudge Graphics
    “We tried using different colors for graphics inside the box,” says Chris. “But when we noticed the ink rubbed off on white midsoles, we switched to white to keep the product perfect.”

    And how we applied that white ink stayed true to the overall mission of reducing waste. “We were thinking about water use when printing,” says Chris. “We wanted the design to be minimal enough that we could keep the overall footprint low.”


If One Box shows up on your door, you’ll see these features come to life on this shoebox-shipping-container combo. You may also see a scuff or two. “Think of these as reminders that you helped remove an extra box from the recycling bin,” suggests Erica.

The Future of Shoeboxes​

Does this mean One Box is going to replace all existing shoeboxes? No, not right away. Millions of units are shipping this year, and that number is only expected to grow through meticulous testing and refinement. “Even though it’s large, we’re still in pilot mode,” says Erica. “There’s opportunity for One Box to evolve over time – how it looks, what it’s used for and how many boxes we can save.”

And just as Space Hippie inspired this game-changing container, One Box is sparking new ideas for changing other packaging practices. For example, reducing the amount of paper used to stuff the toes of shoes, or doing away with the plastic bags that encase individual apparel items.

Rich notes that it’s part of a bigger story: Nike’s overall push to reduce product packaging, an effort that is constantly evolving.

“We’re really the leaders in this space, but
we’re just getting started.”​

Erica Swanson
Senior Director, Sustainable Product Operations
 
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Cool, I guess.

What I would like to see is Nike drop the prices a little being that their basketball shoes are mostly made of plastic...not leather.
 
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I'm interested to see how that affects resellers. If you only get shoeboxes at retail points of sale, things will adjust, but it'll be interesting to see just how. I mean people sell no-box shoes on ebay just fine, but it'll be interesting to see how the market reacts or what happens, if there's a one box only thing happening.
 
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Y'all still feeding these resellers? Couldn't be me.

And this might be cool if they didn't brand the hell out of the boxes.
 
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Companies that sell those clear sneaker display boxes doing the Birdman handrub right about now.

I still keep all my shoes in the original boxes.
 
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Blah, blah, blah. Typical Nike buzz word marketing press release.

What that should say is Nike wanted to cut their costs even more and a by product was that it aligned with a social or environmental cause.
 
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Y'all still feeding these resellers? Couldn't be me.

And this might be cool if they didn't brand the hell out of the boxes.
"From afar One Box might seem underwhelming — but that’s the whole point. “It was a strategic choice for security,” says Chris of the logo-free design. “We didn’t want the box advertising that new shoes were sitting on your stoop.”
 

Methodical Management

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Didn’t some of the early Nike iD models ship in a single box?

I’d be a lot more impressed by Nike’s sustainability efforts if they cost them money instead of saving it.


Thus far, I've been extremely underwhelmed by Nike's "Move to Zero" initiative. Quite simply, it lacks the urgency needed to meet the moment. As a market leader, they have the power to set the bar for the entire industry. They can and should be doing much more.
Instead, they're making half-hearted pledges to "power owned-and-operated facilities with renewable energy by 2025," when we all know that their manufacturing is largely outsourced. Similarly, they've promised to end the use of single-use plastics on their own campuses, but, notably, have made no meaningful efforts to wean themselves off of petroleum-based materials in their many products.

While even competitors like Reebok are developing plant-based midsoles as sustainable alternatives to polyurethane, Nike is patting itself on the back for melting down plastic - in 2022.
If the goal is to divert plastic waste from landfills, spinning it into Nike's NBA jerseys seems like a rather brief diversion:

green.jpg



Brooks debuted its biodegradable midsoles in 2007. Around that same time, Nike was puttering around with repurposing factory scraps with Steve Nash. What progress has been made in the decade and a half since, as we hurtle towards catastrophe?
Nike, at this point, is just recycling its old recycling initiatives.

This year, a tiny startup called BlueView debuted a fully biodegradable shoe manufactured using its non-petroleum, plant-based polyurethane, and Nike, the worldwide industry leader, is still pushing 1990's sustainability initiatives as if they're innovative.
As a longtime fan, it's pathetic. As a resident of Earth, it's appalling.

If Nike can't catch up in this race, we all stand to lose.
 
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