Okay, maybe not the most exciting entry, but it's the little things that add up dammit. Smart design is the best way to squeeze out efficiencies in a system, in this case, milk in the refrigerated supply chain. If you shop at Costco or Sam's Club you've seen these already.
The new design eliminates plastic milk crates, which is a huge materials and shipping weight/space savings off the bat. (If the crates go away, I'm not sure what kids will use to build shelves out of, but there's always cinder blocks.) Since the new jugs stack relatively flat, they can be stacked up on a pallet and shipped with simple wrapping procedures.
Costco estimates the new design cuts water use in half and has a large impact on shipping fuel costs. For example, 224 gallons of milk can now be stored in a space that used to only be able to hold 80 gallons. This means more milk stored in less refrigerated space on a truck or in a warehouse or store, further saving on energy used in each store and coolants used with each refrigeration system in the supply chain.
What I find surprising is how much people are whining about these things. I agree, the first time you see them you're like "What is that?" Then, you buy it, take it home, and you try to pour it, and you spill a bunch on the counter. Frustrating, yes. But, being primates that learn very quickly, all one has to do is try to pour it again, using a different method, and Bammo! you find that you can pour it. Just takes a little change in technique. Consumer confusion and anger is so great that Sams' is actually giving CLASSES on how to pour milk from the new jug, the method of which is simply to leave the bottom of the container on the counter when you start pouring from a new jug. I mean, you could print that on the dang label.
A lot of the folks complaining sort of illustrate the problem we humans face as we grapple with ever-speeding technologies. You hear things like "I know they're doing it because they're easier to stack and it's more convenient, but these are hard to pour and I like the old jugs." So, they not only misunderstand the implications of why the new design exists (lower water use, fuel use, plastic requirements, labor, reduced energy consumption, etc.) but they just don't like change either. I was shocked by all the blogs that go on and on about these jugs, making comparisons to Borg spacecraft and whatever else, and worried to death that children won't be able to pour milk from them. Look, if children can learn to shoot an AK-47, or operate a video game at age 4, they can learn to pour some milk from a new-fangled jug. Ya know? You'd think we'd have bigger fish to fry. Let's just accept the new design, and get on with our lives.
It's no wonder global warming, nuclear war, starvation, disease, biodiversity, and a host of other issues are so elusive to so many of us - we have folks in the herd struggling with a new milk jug. But I'm not making fun of the people (too much), because ultimately people have to adopt change in the free market, or things won't change.
The overall point is that these are the types of non-glamorous design improvements that, little by little, add up to improved efficiencies. All of the small improvements then make things like hyrbid tractor trailers, which Wal-Mart is working on, provide larger returns on investment, which makes their costs come down towards profit margins higher than existing technologies, which means the free market will use them to compete better.