Reverse logistics requires new expertise

“Gone are the days when pretty pictures in the annual report are enough to demonstrate your sustainability and corporate commitment,” he says

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One of the basic tenets of the Boy Scout code is to “leave no trace” when vacating a camp site. The same rule applies to the supply chain, contend some former scouts.

“We owe it to our community and future generations,” said Gary Cullen, Chief Operating Officer of 4PRL LLC, the reverse logistics company of The Georgetowne Group.

“Consumer buying patterns in the past were more conservative and therefore pushed product obsolescence to a larger window—three to five years for a television, for example” he said.  “But now, consumers want the newest television set on the market. One year it’s the flat screen, the next it’s got to be 3D.”

Cullen added that this is happening across all product lines, but particularly high tech…which is often the most toxic.

Speaking at the “sustainability” session of last month’s Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Annual Global Conference in San Diego, Cullen provided several compelling reasons to concentrate on reverse logistics.

“Gone are the days when pretty pictures in the annual report are enough to demonstrate your sustainability and corporate commitment,” he said. “Companies must now provide verifiable evidence of social and environmental impacts.  Yet in order to justify the continued application of resources companies must also demonstrate real business results.”

In his presentation, “Social Responsibility and Environmental Impact of a Reverse Supply Chain,” Cullen cited a recent Aberdeen Group survey showing growing concern over “cradle-to-grave” logistics.
“And the consensus of response was that the grave has to get a whole lot smaller,” said Cullen.

In a subsequent interview with SCMR, Cullen spoke on how a forward supply chain is only half of the total logistics process, and how the very complex network of third party service providers’ (3PSPs) services impact expense, sustainability, and corporate environmental citizenship. 

“The trend to watch,” he says, “is for more specialization in this area. The traditional 3PLs and/or 4PLs are not ready or eager to jump into this business. We feel that the 4RPL model is going to set the new standard.”

He added, jokingly, that the bygone television show, “Sanford & Son,” set the stage for reverse logistics.

“But it has become considerably more complex since then,” said Cullen.

About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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