Returnity - Architecting the Future of Packaging
Packaging Zero Waste Circularity

Returnity - Architecting the Future of Packaging

Understory Team
Understory Team

Mike Newman, CEO of Returnity, spoke at Understory's 'Startups Driving Sustainability' Showcase in February. To watch the entire presentation, click here.

Single use packaging (all those e-commerce boxes!) are expensive and extremely wasteful. In fact, did you know that 100 million trees worth of cardboard are consumed every year and much of it ends up in landfills? Looking specifically at plastic packaging waste, $80-120 billion is lost within the global economy each year, according to the World Economic Forum1.

Returnity is one of the innovative companies helping brands overcome the packaging waste problem. The company produces customized, reusable shipping bags and boxes. In addition, it also provides the supporting systems to transition brands from their existing packaging to more sustainable solutions. At Understory’s Spotlight Award Showcase Event, Mike Newman - CEO of Returnity - described the need for a systems-based approach to effect change.

“Packaging is not a product problem, it’s a system problem.” -Mike Newman

Returnity works with customers to implement a “3P Market Framework” which ensures successful adoption of its solutions at scale: Process, Participation, and Packaging.

  • Process: The way that the consumer returns the packaging for reuse must be simple and inexpensive.
  • Participation: Consumers must adopt a frequent use of the process to ensure the economic viability of the business model and maximize environmental benefits.
  • Packaging: The durable packaging should enhance the brand and encourage reuse. For example, Returnity will custom design and manufacture packaging to meet a brand’s needs.

Consumer data supports the shift to sustainable packaging. A recent survey by First Insight showed that at least 66%% of Gen Z and Millennials say that sustainable packaging is important in their purchase decisions2. Major brands have also signed on in support. Returnity works with major global brands like Estee Lauder, Rent the Runway and Happy Returns. In some instances, the company provides direct-to-consumer packaging such as the shippable garment bags for Rent the Runway. In other cases, Returnity supports internal company logistics, facilitating shipping of products between distribution centers and stores. Returnity works with its clients to understand any unique requirements and facilitate the right process in addition to the packaging.

Returnity is one of the featured companies in circularity innovation, which is an emerging theme and mindset. In Returnity’s case, the company designs out waste from both a product and systems design perspective. The reuse business model keeps resources in circulation.

Returnity has received numerous accolades in addition to Understory’s 2020 Spotlight Award. Most recently, Returnity was named a winner of the Beyond the Bag Challenge and is expected to work with various brands to reinvent the shopping bag.

To learn more about Returnity, watch the full Showcase presentation or listen to our podcast episode with CEO Mike Newman.


[1] World Economic Forum. “The New Plastics Economy”. January 2016

[2] First Insight: “Gen Z Shoppers Demand Sustainable Retail”. January 2020



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