I’ll take definition #4: Symbiosis: any interdependent or mutually beneficial relationship between two persons, groups, etc.
This should describe the relationship between reverse logistics and sustainability. Indeed, it’s likely what the creators of the Reverse Logistics & Sustainability Council had in mind when they created the industry trade association a few years back. Yet in most of the world, silos separate these initiatives and their respective teams. In part the problem stems from both of the disciplines being relatively new, they are typically hatched with disparate goals, and they are likely from different parts of an organization. But bringing the teams and initiatives together will prove beneficial to both, and the organization itself will be the biggest winner.
When you return an item you don’t want – because it doesn’t work, doesn’t fit, is the wrong shade of purple, or you’re simply suffering from buyer’s remorse – what happens on the other side of the customer service counter (or not) is one place where the opportunities for the reverse logistics and sustainability partnership begin to materialize (or not).
High on the agenda of both camps is the reduction of waste. Sustainability teams typically begin by targeting energy in their day-to-day operations. Further waste reduction goals lead to the implementation of recycling programs, diverting reclaimable materials back toward the manufacturing stream, away from the landfill. Yet anything that is returned for any reason, including the end of a lease, is potential waste. Just how returned product is handled is the purview of reverse logistics – but it’s also a great target for sustainability.
Reverse logistics done well will certainly keep much out of the landfill, but also represents the opportunity to recapture more value. When goods are salvaged, the energy, water, and materials needed to create replacement products are saved. These savings ought to interest the sustainability-minded.
Reverse logistics is playing an ever-more-critical role in the circular economy as a formal mechanism for directing both goods and materials to the supply chain as well as to the value chain.
I’ll be talking about these synergies and more at the third annual Reverse Logistics & Sustainability Conference in Dallas, Texas, next month. And I’ll be happy to welcome you to witness reverse logistics and sustainability in action as we tour Arrow’s Value Recovery Dallas facility. Note that the conference registration fee is waived for retailers and manufacturers. Hope to see you there!
Carol Baroudi works for Arrow’s Value Recovery business, promoting sustainability awareness and action. She is the lead author of Green IT for Dummies. Her particular focus is on electronics at the IT asset disposition stage, e-waste, and everything connected. Follow her on Twitter @carol_baroudi and connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/carolbaroudi.