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3Com relies on 'greener' loose fill

A leading manufacturer of routers, hubs, switches, modems, and other computer networking devices, 3Com Corp. has a strong record of responsible environmental leadership.
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FILED IN:  Sustainability  > Strategy
     

The Santa Clara CA company began the effort in 1991 by making all of its operations free of chlorofluorocarbons which have been found to attack the ozone layer in the earth's atmosphere. More recently 3Com's "green" initiative spread to loose-fill protective packaging. The firm has replaced expanded polystyrene peanuts in favor of a water-soluble packing material known as Eco-Foam to protect its products during distribution. The material can be disposed of by composting rinsing down the drain or leaving outside for the rain to dissolve. The blown-foam fill is composed of more than 99% cornstarch. A cost comparison of the two materials was not available from 3Com but manufacturer American Excelsior (Arlington TX) admits that its material is anywhere from 5% to 20% more costly than EPS depending on volume. Eco-Foam was originally developed by National Starch and Chemical Co. (Bridgewater NJ). It is supplied to 3Com by American Excelsior the company that also designed and installed the storage and delivery system for the loose fill. It whisks the Eco-Foam beads from loading dock to overhead bins above the packaging stations and ultimately down into the corrugated shippers in which 3Com products are packed. 3Com products can be as small as a VCR or as large as a small refrigerator and weights are anywhere from 2 to 300 lb. "The fill provides excellent cushioning properties as well as simplifying disposal for our customers" says 3Com distribution manager Dave Tani. "They don't have to go through the inconvenience of arranging for recycling." The Eco-Foam loose fill is delivered by American Excelsior in 48' trailers to loading docks at 3Com distribution centers on three continents. It's conveyed by air to bulk storage hoppers positioned over the packaging lines. Operators squeeze a scissors valve on a downspout to release product into a shipper. The naturally antistatic properties of the starch-based material enhance its flow through the air transport system. These properties also help prevent damage to 3Com products caused by electrostatic discharge. 3Com's environmental efforts have led to a series of awards including the President's Environment and Conservation Challenge Award the nation's highest environmental honor. Such recognition has come in handy as a marketing tool. "We've received such positive environmental recognition that it's been a marketing and sales trigger for us globally" says corporate public affairs manager David Abramson. "We routinely receive inquiries from say a state government or a multinational corporation asking us to include in a network proposal whether our product packaging is CFC-free." Not only can 3Com claim packaging that's CFC-free they can also say their loose fill dissolves harmlessly. "Particularly in Europe" continues Abramson "where they are very sensitive to these issues our selection of packaging materials has been a growth factor for our business. We see it as a continuing strategic advantage for our company as we leverage our strengths in that area."

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