I enjoy reading the article Can You Have a Lean-Green-Global Supply Chain by Mollenkopf, Tate and Ecklund. It explains the possible conflict and synergy between lean and green supply chain. At least it gives me a very clear definition of “sustainability”, which I often misused as well.
Like the authors say, “green” or “sustainability” are buzz words for today’s business environment. To be green means to avoid negative impact to the environment, including air, land and water, and sometime even creating positive impact. But when “green” encounters “efficiency”, companies often choose “efficiency” over “green”. In the end, executives need to be responsible to the stockholders for company bottom line. Going “green” becomes something nice to have as part of a company’s social commitment. I had personal experience that a famous warehouse club resists to optimize truck in order to keep their dock loading efficiency. But actually, many components in supply chain can provide companies with “green” opportunities and at the same time help companies achieve cost and efficiency objectives. Below are some of my thoughts:
- Use “green” material for product design and packaging. Companies can choose to use green materials which can be recycled and reused, which will not impact the environment negatively. Using recycled pallets is a good example in packaging. It’s more challenging to substitute direct materials of the products. However with the green initiatives from governments, there is more and more R&D invested in developing “green” materials. That is true that green substitutes can be more expensive today. However, working with suppliers closely in product development and increasing the economic scale of the material can optimally reduce the material cost and achieve “green” prospective.
- Reduce unnecessary movements in operation and logistics. It’s back to Lean concept to reduce waste of movements. In a factory or warehouse, layout improvement can eliminate unnecessary travel of the workers and forklift trucks, and improve efficiency. Postponing inventory deployment can ship the products to the right locations to meet customers demand, thus avoiding possible stock transfer movements among different regions. For unavoidable small batch or LTL orders from the customers, the efficiency can be achieved through LTL consolidations. All of those reduced movements will not only save significant transportation cost, but also resulting CO2 omission reduction and contribute to a greener environment.
- Improve reverse logistics. Reverse logistics hasn’t been paid too much attention by many companies. But how to reuse, return or dispose of the defective products will have a huge impact on both “green” and logistics costs savings. Companies need to re-examine their reverse chain for more value creation. For examples, instead of shipping the consumers returned products directly to the overseas or local suppliers for inspection and repair, the company can source local service providers to sort the returned products, resell the nondirective ones and then send the defective ones to repair, locally if possible. There is additional service fee incurred, but the savings from unnecessary shipping is tremendous. Just thinking about it, most of returned products from the consumers are actually not defective products. When disposal or scrape is avoidable for end-of-life products, the company should be socially responsible to make sure the wastes are properly handled by the recycling service provider. The goal is to create zero landfill. And keep in mind, any hazardous disposal will damage the company’s reputation and cost more for damage recovery.
Going green is not just a slogan. Going green in supply chain can help a company achieve cost savings or cost avoidance. Executives need to commit to support green initiatives and engage their employees to identify any green opportunities inside and outside the company. As the article says, companies embracing green, lean and global supply chain strategies may in fact continue to gain momentum and find themselves poised on the leading edge of competitiveness.