Are Your Shipping Solutions Sustainable?

Published : April 15, 2015

recycle-on-top-of-paletsIt's safe to say that eco-friendly policies are no longer just a trend in manufacturing and fulfillment, and the companies that invested in them as early adopters are in an enviable position. Sourcing, manufacturing and operations can be green-tweaked with relative ease compared to shipping solutions, however. Your products need to get where they're going, so the time and consideration space isn't as broad when the (hopefully post-consumer recycled) rubber meets the road. How do you stack up on your sustainable shipping practices and decision-making?

Take our short quiz to find out!

Question 1

Your feedback team is reporting a gradual increase in broken or damaged product claims from end consumers. As you investigate, you find that there is insufficient void space padding around the product in outgoing shipments, leaving the product to bang against the top and sides and break despite including styrofoam peanuts. How do you remedy the problem and leverage a green opportunity?

A.) Switch from styrofoam peanuts to custom plastic trays that hold the product in place.

B.) Reduce the size of the shipping boxes and switch to biodegradable peanuts.

C.) Add inflatable air pillows or sheets to wrap around the product's "weak" points.

Answer: B.

The less packaging used for a product, while still keeping it secure, the better. Reducing the size of the box will likely reduce the outer cost, while the reduced volume inside will require less padding and make better use of what is used. Using biodegradable peanuts will also give your marketing team a bullet point to underscore your sustainability initiatives.

If switching from styrofoam isn't a viable option yet, there's still hope for extended material life: The Huffington Post's Macrina Cooper-White recently reported on a Purdue University research team's efforts to turn packing peanuts into lithium ion batteries.

Question 2

You feel that there are places where your company could align more closely with green initiatives—your shipping solutions, included—but you aren't sure how to determine them. What is the best way of tracking down shortfalls in your efficiency and consumption reduction efforts?

A.) Walking through your in-house operations personally, asking questions and investigating potential issues to be mitigated.

B.) Asking those responsible for different departments (e.g. shipping managers, production crews, sourcing teams) to investigate their own areas and report back to you.

C.) Hiring a third-party assessment provider to examine your entire in-house workflow and make recommendations on areas that could benefit from more eco-friendly alternatives or processes.

Answer: C.

It's nearly impossible not to carry some bias into any self-assessment situation. Each area examined by those within your company will naturally come with concern over difficulty, budget increases or other growth-sapping worries only known to those in the company. By trusting a third, unaffiliated party with the assessment, you can be sure that you're getting the unbiased truth about shortcomings, and a stronger voice for advocating their implementation in company planning meetings.

Sheree Hanna of Digital Supply Chain notes that large companies can make excellent role models—whether they are rivals in your industry or not—if they exceed in applied sustainable practices. In short, if you find yourself in doubt, take a peek at your neighbor's paper.

Question 3

You suspect that a certain group of frequently-shipped items are leaving your warehouse overpacked for their journey to customers. What should your next move be?

A.) Nothing. You've achieved a good balance of cost and product protection in terms of your shipping materials; it isn't hurting anyone. Additionally, you already have good relationships with your material suppliers at your current order levels and disruptions could change that.

B.) Swap to a different model of packaging that includes recycled components.

C.) Start sending out test products with different packaging configurations through different shipping providers. Use the data you gain to determine what level of packaging works best.

Answer: C.

Eco-friendly initiatives are not answers in and of themselves. When applied to your shipping solutions, recycled materials and efficiency models need to perform in practice, not just in theory. Even if your testing determines that a smaller quantity of non-eco-friendly materials in a different configuration works, you're still making steps in the right direction.

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Topics: Supply Chain Logistics

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