In supply chain terms, sustainability is the ultimate resource management, ensuring balanced supply and demand for the long-term, avoiding depletion of natural resources, and maintaining ecological balance. But what about circularity?
Once upon a time, in a pre-covid, less sustainability-conscious world, supply chains were thought of as linear— a straight path from raw materials through to manufacturing to warehouse distribution channels, to the end consumer, and finally, to disposal. The problem with this, obviously, is waste. Although a user — whether it be a vendor who supplies you with raw material or components or your end consumer— has deemed a product at the end of its lifecycle, the materials contained within the product still hold value.
Welcome to the Circular Economy
Circularity, also referred to as circular economy, on the other hand, closes the loop and works in reverse order, reverting raw materials back into the manufacturing process for reuse or recycling. By recovering materials, we optimize the value of our resources and minimize waste, extending the life cycle of products and reducing the carbon footprint.
In short, this makes consumers, businesses and the planet happier and more productive.
And now, a new buzzword: Reverse Logistics
Critical to a circular economy, so much so that it’s almost synonymous, reverse logistics is the term for the actual logistics that enable circularity. Hang with us here for a moment.
A reverse logistics program is not only essential to doing good for the planet but is good for business. Today’s customers want to be part of the solution and are looking to buy from eco-friendly companies. But in order to truly be eco-friendly, all elements of the consumer experience need to be looked at - from the product and production itself to the materials and trims used to package and even ship it.
According to Ecovadis’ Sustainable Procurement Barometer 2021 report, sustainability performance is critical for revenue and growth. In fact, 69% of respondents consider sustainability performance when selecting new suppliers and renewing contracts. So, whether you’re B2B or B2C, sustainability, and thereby, circularity, matters.
Paving the path to a more circular future
Customers today have a high level of awareness of the consequences of waste on the environment. For B2C, bringing your customers into the fold with incentive programs and a well-developed reverse logistics strategy for returns, warranty claims, and exchanges with end-of-use programs such as returning reusable containers empowers a more sustainable circular economy while deepening relationships with environmentally-conscious consumers.
Customer returns have an indelible impact on the planet and can be highly inefficient, so much so that the costs outweigh the value to be extracted. Or at least, that was the old way of thinking. Today, as the UN signals code red for humanity, the earth comes first, and the costs go well beyond the financial impacts.
According to Optoro, a return logistics provider, each year in the U.S., 5 billion pounds of returned goods end up in landfills, and 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted in the transportation of returns. By 2025, waste from returns could reach 7.8B lbs and carbon emissions could reach 23M metric tons.
Luckily, companies like the aforementioned Optoro, as well as Return Logic, Happy Returns, Loop, and others, have begun to crop up, uniting our efforts and supporting companies in their reverse logistics initiatives with streamlined supply chain processes. Although these companies offer a great start and lessen the impacts of C2B —a term we hope we begin to hear more of— businesses should evaluate the entirety of their end-to-end supply chain for further opportunities to reduce, reuse, recycle, or refurbish.
This could mean returning packaging to the original supplier for reuse or reverting end-of-line waste back to the vendor to be recycled or reworked. And of course, products and supply chains should be designed from the get-go with sustainability and circularity in mind— because regardless of the nuances between terminology, the goal is to do more with less for the health of our planet and the good of its people.
The Three New Rs: Reduce Reuse and Recycle
Not even a decade ago, the infamous three Rs were Reading, Riting and ‘Rithmetic. Today, they’re now Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. In particular, we’ve seen firsthand how the apparel industry continues to add stricter sustainability mandates for its vendors when it comes to sourcing trims and packaging -- even down to supply chain efforts, shipping and nearshoring.
We’ve been at this for a while and we know sustainability is a word that gets thrown around quite a bit -- but it’s also one that’s not going away. The key to making a real environmental impact is knowing how and when to prioritize your efforts, but with that comes a balancing act. Seeking out the right certifications and understanding when/where recycled materials vs sustainable materials make the most sense is a huge piece of the puzzle. With over 10 years of experience helping some of the biggest retail brands navigate the world of sustainability and circularity, responsibly, we can help.
For more information, visit CHARMING’s sustainable trim and packaging solutions here.