The Power of One: eBay

"The Power of One" is a series of stories about people who have made their companies more sustainable. (See yesterday's story on UL Environment.) They can't do it alone, of course. But by coming up with a good idea, enlisting the help of others and making persuasive arguments, one person can change a company and, sometimes, more. That may require thinking outside the box; today's story, about Karenina Susilo of eBay, is instead about thinking about a box.

During her five years working at eBay, Karenina Susilo has spent a lot of time staring at screens. Karenina, who is 33, is a designer and an expert on user experiences -- her Masters degree from Stanford is in learning, design and technology, and she worked at Yahoo! before joining eBay in 2005. Her job is to help make it easier, more convenient and more fun for eBay's users to do whatever it is they want to do when they come to the site.

Lorin May and Karenina Susilo of eBayYou might think that working in software is pretty cool, and it is. But when people do it day in and day out, some of them evidently get the urge to work with real stuff -- something you can hold in your hand. So, at least, says Karenina, who with her colleagues has spent a good bit lately working on a box.

"The idea of working on something tangible was pretty cool," she says. People got excited about it."

Maybe that's because this was no ordinary box. Karenina and a group of software designers -- who eventually joined forces with dozens of other people across eBay -- came up with a durable, environmentally friendly shipping box.

This box is good for the planet because it's made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified, 100 percent recycled material and it can be reused countless times. It's good for eBay sellers because it saves them money; they don't have to buy their own boxes. It's good for eBay buyers because when they receive a box, they can sign up for $1 in eBay Bucks, a rewards program. And it's good for eBay's business because it creates loyalty among both buyers and sellers, and enhances the company's reputation as a "green" brand.

Green Biz inside

What's most interesting about this story, though, is how eBay, as a company, made it relatively easy for Karenina to get outside the box of her regular job. Every year, eBay sponsors an event known as the Innovation Expo. It's a science fair for grownups -- employees bring their best ideas to eBay's Whitman campus in San Jose, where they are examined by judges who include senior execs at the company, including founder Pierre Omidyar and CEO John Donahoe. The winning entry gets a $10,000 prize. Last year's expo featured an additional $5,000 prize for an idea that promoted sustainability. The March event generated 81 entries, including the box.