Page last updated at 05:40 GMT, Monday, 19 April 2010 06:40 UK

Puma thinks outside the box with eco-packaging

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Usain Bolt crossing the winning line
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is one of Puma's biggest names

Famous footballers such as Pele, Johan Cruyff and Maradona originally brought Puma's name to UK audiences, and current stars such as Usain Bolt have kept the company in the spotlight.

But now the sports and leisure firm wants to be known as much for its sustainable business plan as for its big sporting names.

At London's Design Museum on the banks of the River Thames the German firm unveiled its new environmentally-friendly packaging for its footwear, which will mean an end to the traditional shoe box.

After more than two years of looking at various solutions, industrial designer Yves Behar of Fuse Project has came up with what is dubbed Puma's "Clever Little Bag".

From the end of next year the sports kit maker aims to cut its carbon footprint by putting its shoes in a frame made from a single cardboard sheet and wrapped in reusable shoe bags.

Customers can leave the card at the store, or take it home and recycle it. The bag can be re-used or recycled, and is biodegradable.

'Sustainability necessary'

According to Puma the move will save 8,500 tonnes of paper, and mean a reduction of 60% in water and energy used during the production process.

It will also mean a reduction in transportation, due to the lighter packaging which does away with much cardboard, tissue paper, and various forms of plastic wrappings.

Puma 'clever bag'
The new design does away with much of the traditional footwear packaging

"Sustainability in business is no longer negotiable, it is absolutely necessary, and we companies are overdue in taking responsibility," declares Jochen Zeitz, Puma's youthful-looking 47-year-old chief executive and chairman.

"Business is part of the environmental problem; and we need to do what we can to fix it - companies need to lead the way.

"Meanwhile, consumers are becoming increasingly discerning in their choices and we need to address this too."

The move is part of what Puma says are ways of cutting its carbon "pawprint" over the next five years.

And the firm says it is only the limitations of current technology that is preventing its products from being totally environmentally-friendly.

"Over time we hope to be 100% recyclable, but at the moment we want to reach standards that are achievable today," Mr Zeitz says.

No job cuts

The delay in implementing the new packaging is due to having to run tests to take the bag through Puma's supply chain, and "educating" its partners.

Mr Zeitz says that covers everything from showing retailers how to stack the bags in stores to dealing with the conservative working traditions of German warehouse staff.

Jochen Zeitz
Mr Zeitz says the move is cost neutral in the medium to long term

Meanwhile, he says the move is "estimated at being cost neutral in the mid to long term, and slightly negative in the short term".

Puma say it has factored this into its development costs, and is looking forward to when the programme will save it money by using less energy and less materials, while producing less waste.

At the moment the majority of its products are made in Asia, in countries such as China and Vietnam, so the bags will be initially manufactured there too.

When sub-production facilities are up and running in places like Argentina and Brazil among others, then bags will also be made in plants nearby to factories there.

Mr Zeitz says there are not expected to be any job cuts as part of this programme.

Motor sports

However, why does a company with such green aims sponsor Formula One, perhaps one of the most environmentally-unfriendly sports?

Not only are the cars burning large amounts of fuel, albeit with a biofuel element, but huge amounts of equipment have to be transported by truck or aircraft around the world from race to race.

Ferrari driver Felipe Massa
Puma is a supporter of the Ferrari Formula One team

The firm, which has a Puma Motorsports division, backs the Ferrari and Red Bull F1 teams, makes clothing for two Nascar racing teams, and sponsors and supplies the Ducati Corse Moto GP motorcycle team.

"If you look at the number of [F1] races a year, the limited amount of [carbon] footprint is small," says Mr Zeitz.

He says motor racing body the FIA is trying to persuade F1 to become more environmentally-friendly, through increased use of biofuels and other measures.

Mr Zeitz also says that Puma is in constant discussions with its F1 and Moto GP partners to try to influence them to become more green.

Be he adds: "We don't want to become complete purists and say we will not use our cars any more.

"We are not saying we have to be perfect, we know we are not in a perfect world, but can improve some areas through things such as better technology."

He also points to Puma's involvement in competitive sailing as a sign of its green credentials.

World Cup hopes

Mr Zeitz has spearheaded the worldwide restructuring of Puma, and made it one of Germany's best-known businesses abroad.

Since 2007, Puma has been majority-owned by PPR, the French luxury goods maker that also owns Gucci, and has expanded into the lifestyle clothing arena as well as making sports kit.

Yves Behar
The new packaging has been designed by Yves Behar

And with less then two months to go until the World Cup in South Africa, the firm is hoping the football jamboree can boost sales.

Puma sponsors 12 African teams, so it expects a "home field advantage" with the tournament being in Africa.

It sponsors Ghana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mozambique, Egypt, Tunisia, Namibia, Morocco, Angola, Senegal, Togo and Algeria.

Before the World Cup kicks off on 11 June, Puma's fourth-quarter results are due out at the end of April.

The company's third-quarter pre-tax profits, released last November, before interest fell 21.6% to 98m euros ($145.8m; £87m).

Big rivalry

Meanwhile, Mr Zeitz has promised more progress on one of Europe's biggest sporting business stories of last year - the move to end its long and bitter rivalry with Adidas.

The rivalry was started 60 years ago by their founding brothers - Adi and Rudolf Dassler, who had started making sports shoes together in the 1920s.

Diego Maradona in action
Diego Maradona wearing Puma boots in the 1986 World Cup final

They fell out during World War II and founded firms on either side of a river in southern Germany, Adi with Adidas and Rudolf with Puma.

Last year the two firms played a friendly football match to try to end the feud.

"It's something we want to continue," Mr Zeitz says.

"I would certainly hope and believe we will do something again, it should not be a one-off."

For now the firm is concentrating on telling the world about its new packing system.

Deyan Sudjic, director of the Design Museum, says: "They have invested time and money in the project to come up with something that is elegant yet meets its objectives."

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