Green Procurement: Material flows and logistics in ‘cradle-to-cradle’ approach essential

Discussion presented at the Environmental Trade Show and Conference.

Cradle-to-cradle thinking, which suggests that everything created by humankind can contribute positively to the environment and the economy, may be one of the next movements to influence the future of supply chain management (SCM).

SCM professionals are in a position to lead a drive towards complete environmental efficiency, Catharena Van Zyl, Project Manager with the Environmental Protection Encouragement Agency (EPEA) and member of a cradle-to-cradle project team with Philips Electronics, indicated in her address at the Buy-Environmental Trade Show and Conference early in June.

Logistics, service level agreements and communication with suppliers offer SCM professionals powerful tools to quickly and dramatically change the environmental impact of their organisation’s products, said Van Zyl.

Cradle-to-cradle thinking sees materials as nutrients and recognises two safe ‘metabolisms’ in which they flow:

Biological and technological metabolism.jpgDenmark, the Netherlands and Taiwan are fast implementing measures to become cradle-to-cradle countries; where Industrial, manufacturing and social activities are all carbon positive – they leave a footprint that is environmentally beneficial.

SCM professionals have access to the information that indicates aspects in a supply chain that need to be made environmentally efficient and beneficial, alluded Van Zyl.

The first aspect is the quality of material. Involve suppliers in an environmental drive as they can have a tremendous impact by acknowledging the part they have to play. Eliminating the bad must be the priority, not just reducing it. Procurement should request from suppliers detailed inventories that show the composition of supplied products.

In many cases it is not the raw material that is harmful, but the additives used that are the danger, especially in terms of ‘off-gasing’ when the product is being used. Procurement departments should use leverage to request that suppliers remove harmful products from their inventories.

Technological metabolism is made easier if organisations have recycling contracts with local organisations. Local recycling organisations will then be able to work with the material and recycle more of it.

However, to ensure a higher level of technological metabolism, Van Zyl lobbies for the involvement of waste management organisations in an organisation’s supply chain. “If waste a management organ helps to plan what goes into the product, it can ensure that at the end of its life cycle that product can be fully recycled or provide a beneficial footprint.”

Similarly, raw material suppliers or storage banks should be included in supply chains.

Finally, adding a ‘take-back’ system into a supply chain allows an organisation to take full responsibility of a full cradle-to-cradle product life cycle, concluded Van Zyl. Organisations can retrieve the product from consumers once it has served its purpose and it can be metabolised according to planned re-use and recycling procedures that were put in place when the product was designed. This promotes return business with an environmental concern never shown by planned obsolescence.

A ‘take-back’ system also removes the problem of consumer recycling laziness as the onus to recycle is moved from the consumer to the manufacturer.

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