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Logistics providers could add green links to global supply chain, DHL says

By Ben Ames | January 04, 2016 | 10:48 AM

Imagine delivery trucks that haul used packaging back to warehouse recycling centers as they make their daily routes. Think of consumers who help slash even more consumer waste by choosing reusable packaging for the delivery of their online purchases.

A recent report from global 3PL and supply chain management giant DHL describes these and many other creative logistics initiatives that could help support a greener supply chain.

Of course, logistics managers already apply sustainable business practices in many corners of the supply chain, from using renewable fuels in forklifts and tractor-trailer cabs to paring excess miles off delivery routes and idling unused conveyor belts.

Despite these advances, however, the industry could do much more to support sustainable business practices, according to a November 2015 DHL report titled “Fair and Responsible Logistics.”

Beyond just saving the planet, supply chain firms can use green business practices to create a lasting competitive advantage. By embedding fair and responsible logistics at the core of their business models, these companies can ensure that their profits grow hand in hand with sustainability, says the study developed by the DHL Trend Research team, a unit of Deutsche Post DHL Group.

To blaze the trail for this green shipping initiative, the report identifies 15 potential use cases for fair and responsible logistics in the areas of circular economy, fair access, and fair production and trade.

The report points out that today’s climate of mass production and consumption is causing imbalances in global societies and the environment. In response, the group suggested three potential solutions.

First, logistics providers could establish recycling-friendly trucks that provide the infrastructure for both logistics and recycling. Such a truck would be equipped with a flexible interior that adjusts during delivery, shrinking the delivery area as parcels are offloaded, and growing the collection area as recyclables are collected on the return journey.

A second way to increase recycling volumes and reduce waste would be deploying bio-degradable materials to help cope with burgeoning parcel volumes, allowing consumers to compost the packaging in their gardens. An alternative to this approach is shipping items in reusable containers, just as shoppers increasingly use reusable bags at grocery stores. Known as “logistics unverpackt” in German, the strategy could lead to zero-waste shipping by eliminating the need for online delivery packaging.

In a third twist on standard logistics practices, logistics providers could map out complex end-to-end supply chains for smaller companies. By establishing greater transparency, this practice could expose areas where there are opportunities to improve “fair and responsible business.”

As they experiment with these methods, supply chain practitioners should see the philosophy as a potential profit center, not an additional cost, the report insists. While many companies today are relying on digitalization and technology as key sources of business rejuvenation, they should also listen to the growing expectations of consumers to “go fair.” By following the maxim “doing well comes from doing good,” logistics companies can leverage their position in managing global trade networks to accelerate fair and responsible business in other industries, as well.

“Logistics is a network business with a global reach that can play a key role in helping businesses to ‘go fair’ and in improving transparency across the entire supply chain,” said Markus Kückelhaus, vice president Innovation and Trend Research, DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation. “By placing fair and responsible logistics at the core of our own business, new revenue streams can be generated, as well as new social and environmental value for all stakeholders.”

To read the full report, see www.dhl.com/content/dam/downloads/g0/about_us/logistics_insights/dhl_trendreport_fairresp.pdf.

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