Sustainability Calls for Reverse Logistics

“Reverse logistics” is not a term in common parlance among sustainability professionals. We’re real familiar with just plain ol’ “logistics” and programs like the EPA’s SmartWay Transport Partnership, which aims to help “businesses move goods in the cleanest, most efficient way possible.”

Simply put, logistics – or forward logistics – means getting stuff there. Reverse logistics is all about getting stuff back – back from the customer, back from the retailer, back into the world of reuse and materials reclamation.

Where do unsold goods and returned goods go? Where can products go at the end of their obvious life? Back. They can go back to be repaired, refurbished, and redeployed, or back to be de-manufactured, their materials returned to the manufacturing stream. Reverse logistics keeps products out of the waste stream, and it should be part of all our sustainability strategies.

The newly formed Reverse Logistics & Sustainability Council (RLSC) unifies these disciplines. In January I presented “Using Sustainability to Create Business Value,” with Best Buy’s director of environmental services, Scott Weislow, at RLSC’s very first event in Atlanta. Marquee retailers, manufacturers, and service providers that enable incredibly sophisticated operations met here and discussed the challenges and opportunities of “getting stuff back.” From managing customer service to detecting fraudulent products, reverse logistics experts grapple with business imperatives, brand opportunity and vulnerability, and regulatory compliance every day.

A highlight was the keynote address from Inmar’s president of supply chain network, Steve Dollase: “Why Reverse Logistics and Sustainability are Board Room Issues.” Reverse logistics and sustainability both tie to:

1. Risk mitigation
2. Cost reduction
3. Brand enhancement

Steve attests, and I concur. A sustainable business, I say, is one that is intentional and judicial in its use of resources – and nothing brings home resource use and reuse like reverse logistics.

One way we talk about Arrow Value Recovery is in terms of global reverse logistics. We’re all about getting stuff back – fixing and redeploying, providing spare parts, identifying and removing suspect product, returning materials to the manufacturing stream. It’s part of our vision of five years out. We understand that our ability to continue to guide innovation forward includes transparency and accountability around exactly what we do with everything that comes back to us. We have the strongest, most assiduous processes on the planet. “Reverse Logistics” is our middle name.

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