Our next Sustainability Awards finalist interview is with Belgium-based Fit Things with their Slimbox box printer, nominated in the Machinery category. CEO Filip Roose tells us a little more about the innovation.

Congratulations on being selected by the international judging panel as a Sustainability Awards 2020 finalist! Could you please introduce your successful entry and what’s innovative about it?

Thank you very much, we are just thrilled by this nomination. It seriously means a lot to us.

With the Slimbox, we created a box-printer. You need a box with specific dimensions? Just make it on your Slimbox! No need to look for a box that fits the goods you want to send. And then fill them up with all sorts of single-use filler materials since it is too big anyhow. No, just select the model you want, enter the dimensions you need and ‘print’ it. This results in:

- stronger boxes, because they fit around your products;

- smaller boxes, which drastically reduce your shipping costs;

- no filler materials, that are expensive and not exactly environmentally friendly;

- happier customers, since they get personalized packaging.

This solution doesn’t only help you drastically reduce your carbon footprint, it will also have a quick return-on-investment. So what’s not to like about that? 

What are the environmental challenges in packaging that your entry addresses, and what impact do you hope it will make?

Shipping boxes that are too big, means more transport vehicles are necessary to ship the same amount of products as to when you would reduce these box-sizes. That means we first of all tackle the carbon footprint. Secondly, filler materials, and certainly plastic filler materials, are just a thorn in the side of those who are trying to reduce plastics. Why is it that, when we go grocery shopping, we can’t get a plastic bag anymore. But when we order something online, we receive dozens of them? The Slimbox does not only allow you to make boxes. No, it can actually cut any shape or drawing that you can come up with. So if you want to make extra protection for a glass bottle or some wine glasses; no problem! So protection within boxes to make vulnerable products survive the trip can all be made from the same corrugated you are making your boxes with. Finally, even though corrugated is a very natural product, we want to reduce the amount of corrugated, too. Our best calculation is that thanks to the use of a Slimbox, about 20% less corrugated is being used, instead of regular (too big) boxes. However, on average, making a bespoke box reduces the volume of the box by over 40%.

What do we hope the impact will be? Well, we’re still young, but we won’t rest until we have convinced every company to have a Slimbox in their office. We want people to ask their co-workers: “Hey, do we have a Slimbox? I need to send something out and need a box.” The impact such an ideal situation could have on our environment would be very impressive.

I’d like to ask you about the broader picture beyond your successful entry. ‘Sustainability’ in packaging is multi-dimensional – both in terms of objectives and challenges. Could you comment on the most important roadblocks you identify from your position in the value chain, and the kinds of solutions you would like to see addressing them (e.g. areas of technological innovation, collaboration, regulation)?

When it comes to a startup like ours, without a well known name or connections, it is very hard to get inside large organizations. At least, to have projects really move forward. We are always going from one department to another. And when people change seats in those organizations, we need to start it all over again. That is very often a roadblock for us. We also don’t have a team per big potential customer. So when we put a lot of work into it, this is really done by a small team. When, after months of work, all of a sudden someone leaves or someone at the top of the organization has a bad day and pulls the plug on the project, that hurts. Mostly financially. And of course we’re not betting on one horse, but with a small team, you only have a limited amount of time to ’spend’. Having a number of big customers that don’t just do ‘greenwashing’ (to use a negative term), but actually put their money where their mouths are, that is what we need. Courageous organizations! CEOs that go for it!