The making of a box
A Jefferson Smurfit Group case study

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Page 1: Introduction

Jefferson Smurfit Group 3 Image 1This case study examines the means by which the Jefferson Smurfit Group’s basic product – the box – is designed and manufactured, considering the ways in which value is added at each step of the process, and how, with the central importance of recycling, the Group’s businesses are conducted in an environmentally responsible manner. In the early 1930’s, Jefferson Smurfit, Sr. saw the untapped potential of a small Dublin box factory and with the purchase of that firm, the story of the Jefferson Smurfit Group began.

Over the succeeding decades, the Smurfit Group grew rapidly, obtaining a listing on the Dublin Stock Exchange in 1964, the London Exchange in 1970 and the American Stock Exchange in 1983. Dr Michael Smurfit, son of Jefferson Smurfit, Sr. And Chairman and Chief Executive since 1977, has led the Group through a period of successful global expansion.

Today, the Jefferson Smurfit Group, together with its associates, is the largest paper based packaging organisation in the world. With more than 200 companies operating over 400 facilities around the globe, the Group employs more than 45,000 people in 25 countries. More than 60 reclamation plants around the world, processing more than five million tonnes of waste paper, make the Jefferson Smurfit Group the world’s largest recycler. And, with its research and development centres at Talence, France and Carol Stream in Chicago, the Group continues to develop the products and techniques which will ensure its industry leadership into the future.

Containment, protection and display

Just about everything we buy or use, at some point along the way, comes in a box. Why? Jefferson Smurfit Group 3 Image 2Because boxes provide three basic benefits: containment, protection and display. Achieving these aims as effectively and efficiently as possible is the goal of box design and production.

Consider an apple. While it grows and matures on the tree, an apple is protected from the elements by a strong skin, which also holds together the seeds and nutrients which the apple contains. This skin is, in a sense, the ‘box’ which contains and protects the apple. When the apple ripens and falls to the ground, this skin disintegrates, releasing the seeds and nutrients into the earth. Thanks to the apple’s own natural packaging, its contents have reached their destination – in this case, the earth – safely, and with the disintegration of the protective skin, everything is returned to nature and nothing has gone to waste. It’s a very efficient and natural process, and provides a useful model for the environmentally-sound production of today’s man-made packaging. When an apple is picked and eaten before falling to the ground, we can say that the third benefit, display, has prevailed, because the apple looked good enough to eat!

Up until the mid-19th century, most packaging consisted of wooden boxes, barrels and jute sacks. Although these containers could be used again and again, they were heavy and unwieldy and with the tremendous growth of worldwide trade since that time, a lighter and more convenient type of packaging was clearly needed. With the mechanisation of paper production, it became possible to construct sturdy packaging from this material and the box we know today, made from recyclable paper products, was born.

Jefferson Smurfit Group | The making of a box