Cradle to Cradle

Embracing the Cradle-to-Cradle concept requires a redesign of the complete supply chain, where return flows have the same importance as forward flows. But will it work?

The results of research in to new “Cradle-to-Cradle” concept for sustainable engineering by TNO and Capgemini has recently been published at the annual EVO conference on April 8, 2008.

In the research, executed on request of the Dutch EVO association (Dutch industry association of logistics service providers) and with support from the Project Sustainable Logistics (Connekt) from the Dutch government, the supply chain consequences of the ‘Cradle to Cradle’ concept on Dutch firms was investigated.

In the Cradle-to-Cradle supply chain, products are designed and manufactured from sustainable, and if possible fully combustible materials which can be returned to the technical and biological hemispheres after the product has reached its end of life.

In short waste = food.

Re-use of materials in manufacturing and supply chain processes is not only good for the environment but also has financial benefits.

Therefore it becomes increasingly attractive for companies to establish closed-loop supply chains and to implement sustainable concepts like Cradle-to-Cradle.

Additional benefits can be realised if companies move their focus from product into service oriented organisations, to better profit from scale effects.

Previously companies have invested primarily in the optimisation of the forward supply chains.

Recent concern about the environmental impact of certain manufacturing processes and supply chains and the fast increase in raw material prices has increased the focus for recycling materials.

The larger the percentage of recyclable materials, the higher the financial benefits for the company.

However, the research finds that to really embrace the Cradle-to-Cradle concept reqires a complete redesign of the supply chain, where return flows have the same importance as forward flows.

According to EVO director Machiel van der Kuijl the research shows very well how companies can best design their supply chain if they want to implement the Cradle-to-Cradle concept in practice.

“EVO will advice its members about ways they can incorporate the results of this research into their company operations,” he says.

“The concept where waste becomes food, thereby creating a positive switch in our consumption economy, needs innovation power from the industry,” say researchers Bram van Schijndel from Capgemini and Frank van Lange from TNO.

“The no-waste philosophy sounds nice and beautiful, but incorporation within the existing supply chains is challenging.”

“Year after year companies have focused on the optimisation of their forward supply chains.”

“The return supply chains are severely lagging behind because of an insufficient notion of the importance within the total economic chain.”

“With the Cradle-to-Cradle concept the final business case is very dependent upon the effectiveness of the return supply chains.”

“The industry will need to invest in re-designing its supply chains to enable the added value of the Cradle-to-Cradle concept in reality.”

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