BlogSupply Chain Sustainability/Circular EconomySupply Chain: Lowering Your Total Cost of BusinessLandscape scene show components of a cradle to cradle supply chain

The cradle-to-cradle supply chain is a relatively new idea that builds upon the circular business model. When executed correctly, this strategy makes an entire network more sustainable while improving resource use and cutting costs. Luckily, there are many simple ways companies can develop a cradle-to-cradle approach and take advantage of these benefits. 

Managers can initiate their cradle-to-cradle strategy by eliminating non-recyclable supplies, establishing a vendor vetting process, and utilizing leasing partnerships. By implementing these strategies, supply chain managers can lower their total-cost-of-business (TCOB) while cultivating a sustainable business ecosystem. 

Cradle-to-Cradle Supply Chain vs. Cradle-to-Grave Supply Chain

Illustration depicts cradle to cradle business model

A cradle-to-cradle supply chain supports a new circular business model where resources are more effectively utilized. This is the opposite of the traditional linear—and often wasteful—model. The inefficient counterpart to the cradle-to-cradle supply chain in the sustainable warehouse is known as cradle-to-grave. 

Despite its morbid name, the cradle-to-grave strategy can encourage sustainability because it’s about foresight. The supply chain manager considers how every resource purchased will eventually break down and impact the planet. The supply chain takes ownership of resource disposal; it doesn’t just throw materials into a landfill. For instance, when a company uses biodegradable packaging materials, it ensures the materials will break down naturally. Overall, managers try to only purchase supplies that will break down in a planet-friendly way. This strategy is mainly dedicated to sustainability. Its counterpart, cradle-to-cradle, centers on sustainability and reduced business costs and re-use of resources.  The cradle-to-cradle model is more focused on recyclability. When a resource reaches the end of its useful life, the supply chain manager can use it to create entirely new resources. In this model, the facility increases sustainability and saves money on new purchases. Such practices also strengthen brand recognition, as the company becomes known for its conservation efforts.  This process is slightly more challenging than the cradle-to-grave model as it requires the ability to process and revitalize used materials. Equipment expense, personnel availability, and time requirements make it difficult for warehouse managers to implement these tasks in-house. As a result, companies may choose to work with third parties who are expert in this method. 

Many businesses will combine cradle-to-cradle and cradle-to-grave philosophies to create more sustainable supply chain operations and save money. Neither of these methods has to be particularly challenging if the warehouse manager knows what to target.   

Tips on Taking a Cradle-to-Cradle Approach

Forklift picks up plastic palletMany managers choose to forgo the cradle-to-cradle supply chain approach due to implementation concerns. They believe that obtaining necessary equipment, training workers, and devoting the time to recycling simply isn’t possible. However, these three tips can help managers streamline the transition: 

  1. Choose recyclable resources: Even if the warehouse itself cannot offer on-site recycling, outside resources can likely enable managers to take advantage of the benefits. For that reason, supply chain managers should always opt for recyclable materials over non-recyclable ones. This point can be illustrated by comparing wood and plastic pallets. Typically, wood pallets must follow a cradle-to-grave approach because they must be transformed into mulch or discarded in a landfill at the end of their useful life. Plastic pallets, on the other hand, can be ground down and reformed into brand new shipping platforms, allowing recycled materials to revitalize the warehouse ecosystem indefinitely—the very definition of cradle-to-cradle.  
  2. Opt to lease when possible: Leasing a resource facilitates a cradle-to-cradle supply chain. Take the plastic pallet leasing example from above. By working with a company that offers plastic pallet pooling, managers place the responsibility of recycling those pallets onto a third party. 
  3. Carefully vet vendors and partners: Warehouse managers should ask questions on sustainability and recycling during the vendor bidding process. Also, keep in mind that some companies do not have the option to offer a cradle-to-cradle approach. Consider wood pallet pooling—recycling is unlikely as damaged wood cannot be used to form new pallets. On the other hand, plastic pallet pooling offers cradle-to-cradle benefits when the company recycles their used plastic to make new pallets. 

Building a cradle-to-cradle supply chain does not have to be difficult. Often, managers need to look no further than their vendors. By working with third parties that have built sustainability initiatives into their business models, warehouse supply managers can enjoy the benefits of a circular business strategy without the expense and extra effort. 

If you’re ready to establish a cradle-to-cradle supply chain strategy in your warehouse, plastic pallet pooling with iGPS pallets is an excellent first step. To get started, call 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.