A gallon of milk, an indicator of things to come

If there is any doubt that higher fuel prices are going to have a positive impact on the environment, a look at the sort of radical rethinking we’re starting to see at all levels of the supply chain for basic goods should make the trend clear. The New York Times today runs a front page story about a new type of milk jug that is far more efficient to fill, pack, transport, and recycle. The rigid rectangular jugs do not require traditional crates and, due to their efficient shape, can be packed far more tightly and securely onto pallets. This results in faster filling, fresher milk, and fewer deliveries to stores, saving fuel.

Customers are skeptical of the change, because the new milk containers are oddly shaped and can be difficult to pour. But customers will adapt, and other designs will emerge. And these sorts of small changes, these little sparks of innovation, will slowly add up to big impacts on our environment.

Now granted, this new design was being discussed back in 2001, so it didn’t just miraculously appear fully formed due to the current energy crisis. But it is a sign of things to come as more people start to think about these issues and the bottom-line benefit becomes more clear.