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28 February 2014
There are several good reasons why a company might practice reverse logistics - the process of retrieving broken, worn out or obsolete items for recycling or refurbishment. These include improved public image wherein customers recognize the benefits of buying from an environmentally responsible company, improved environmental record and improved resource usage. However, there are several obstacles that lie between a world in which consumers dispose of their own goods and companies as a matter of ethical and economic obligations invoke a reverse logistics system.
According to researchers from Brazil and France, there are six main obstacles: (i) good income control, (ii) standardized and mapped processes, (iii) reduced time cycle, (iv) information systems, (v) planned logistic grid and (vi) collaborative relations between customers and suppliers. Writing in the International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management this month, Caroline Rodrigues Vaz of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, and colleagues there and at the University of Toulouse, France, UFSC, explain how companies have difficulties in implementing reverse logistics as part of their business because of the high cost and difficulties in measuring material returns. Nevertheless, several companies have successfully applied reverse logistics and have increased their competitiveness and improved their corporate image.
Given that reverse logistics is compulsory under electronic waste regulations in some parts of the world, companies should feel obliged to investigate this practice proactively for ethical, environmental and economic reasons sooner, rather than later. "Currently, a well-structured logistics process [including reverse logistics] brings benefits and advantages to companies, with a rise in competitiveness and consolidation of the corporate image, besides the reduction of consumption of natural resources and pollution to the environment," the team says.
In order to implement a reverse logistics strategy, a company must first investigate the demand for such a system, including legal obligations. The company must then communicate its plans to customers and define the operation so that customers are fully aware of the requirements of the system and whether there are financial or other benefits to them of being involved save for the ethical disposal of old items. The company must be transparent in its plans for retrieved items whether they will resell, restore, recycle, repackage, or send to refuse.