Logistic Activities and their Green Dimensions
Since logistics are related to all the activities involved in making goods available to the final consumers, including all the stages related to procurement and distribution, the green applications of logistics are numerous and covering three main dimensions:
  • Product design and production planning. Developing products that have a lower environmental footprint, including their production process. This can involve opting to suppliers that are closer (near sourcing) or that are abiding to more stringent environmental standards (sustainable sourcing). However, this strategy is running into the risk of offering goods and services that are less competitive.
  • Physical distribution. Ensuring that the mobility of freight related to logistics operations is performed in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. This can involve a wide array of strategies such as a better consolidation of loads to avoid sub-optimal use of transportation (from LTL to FTL), as well as alternative modes (modal shift) or fuels (technological improvements).
  • Materials management. Moving towards more efficient forms materials use, including packaging and recycling so that what used to be an output can become an input. Optimally, a much higher level of recycling should be part of the inputs of the manufacturing sector.
All these dimensions can be individually or jointly applied. Since they involve different actors, concerted efforts are uncommon as each element of the supply chain pursues strategies that are judged to be the most effective along their respective channels. The conventional forward channel in freight distribution is well understood with raw materials, parts and finished goods flowing from suppliers to producers, distributors and, finally, to consumers. In many cases, there is also a reverse channel where wastes, packages, and defective/obsolete products are "climbing back" the supply chain. In some instances, such as for a defective product, distributors will take back the merchandises, but in other instances, a specialized segment of the distribution industry aims at collecting and then recycling goods and parts. Thus, reverse logistics (or reverse distribution) is concerned about the movements of previously shipped goods from customers back to manufacturers or distribution centers due to repairs, recycling or returns. There are several variants:
  • An important segment is customer-driven, where domestic waste is set aside by home-dwellers for recycling. This has achieved wide popularity in many communities, notably because the public became involved in the process.
  • A second type is where non-recyclable waste, including hazardous materials, is transported for disposal to designated sites. As landfills close to urban areas become scarce, waste has to be transported greater distances to disposal centers.
  • A different approach is where reverse distribution is a continuous embedded process in which the organization (manufacturer or distributor) takes responsibility for the delivery of new products as well as their take-back. This means environmental considerations for the whole life-cycle of a product (production, distribution, consumption and recycling/disposal).