DHL white paper calls for collaborative action and shows pathway toward circularity

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DHL has published a new white paper titled Delivering on Circularity, which aims to help societies and businesses tackle the climate crisis and other environmental challenges such as water use and waste generation using circular economies.

“Simply put, circularity is about the 5Rs: reduce, repair, resell, refurbish and recycle. The transition toward a circular economy is built on the redesign of supply chains,” said Katja Busch, chief commercial officer at DHL. “Innovative logistics solutions can help drive circularity; they are a key enabler to facilitate both the physical and data flows. Especially when it comes to optimizing production volumes and materials, extending product lifecycles, launching novel use models or developing new solutions for end-of-life recycling.”

According to the paper, the most significant impact on the push for circularity might come from the fashion and consumer electronics industries. Industry leaders are already actively participating in the paradigm shift toward circularity, announcing ambitious targets and launching a wide range of initiatives. The potential positive impact that circularity can have on these two industries is significant. Around 20% of produced garments are never used, and smartphones are often exchanged after just two or three years. Both combined sectors contribute to more than 6% of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To produce electronic devices, many non-renewable resources such as rare earth metals are needed.

In addition, the industries are responsible for substantial land use (more than the area of Germany and Switzerland combined), water consumption (equivalent to 40% of US citizens’ annual water consumption) and waste generation (equal to approximately 50% of Europeans’ annual waste). With 80% of emissions of an average fashion or consumer electronics item accruing during production, extending the product lifetime as much as possible is imperative.

“The shift toward circular consumer behaviors is a critical driver of a successful transition to circularity. Consumer behaviors increase the number of goods that flow back into the cycle and signal demand to brands for circular products. And the trend toward more sustainable demand is growing,” said Carsten Lützenkirchen, senior vice president at DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “Novel circular business models not only diversify product and service portfolios but also have a positive effect on customer engagement. It is a classical win-win situation in which sustainability drives growth and innovation.”

“The circular economy aims to reimagine the way that goods produced, sold and used today are recycled into the raw materials of tomorrow. To realize the full potential of the concept and institutionalize the model, we need innovative solutions and technologies,” added Busch. “Of course, it is more complex to set up supply chains for on-demand production or recycling cycles and to manage the massive data flow, but to jointly achieve our ambitious environmental targets, it needs to be addressed. We at DHL are looking forward to partnering with circularity’s stakeholders by serving as an enabler for the new physical and data flows within the supply loop.”

Along the product’s value chain, DHL identified three core enablers and 10 building blocks that allow for a successful transition from supply chains to supply loops. These range from innovative materials and design to on-demand production, smart product returns, reusable packaging, new use concepts, and asset collection and recycling. Above all, circular consumer behavior must be incentivized.

Furthermore, supply chains must be redesigned and visibility and orchestration enabled to make circularity feasible. A concerted effort among all players can make the transition to circularity successful and rewarding. In terms of emission savings, circularity seems to be a convenient and impactful way to reduce emissions. Achieving 50% circularity saves as many GHG emissions as if all streaming users worldwide stopped watching video content for five years.

According to DHL, if all stakeholders take on their responsibilities and accelerate a mutually reinforcing loop, circularity can become a reality. While the successful transition to circularity is undoubtedly a shared responsibility and effort, logistics players are the natural backbone. Circularity changes the way materials and products move – from a straight line to a regenerative circle – and efficiently managing the flow of goods is what logistics is all about.

Read the white paper here.

And look out for the March issue of Parcel and Postal Technology International, which will have an in-depth feature on the opportunities in the circular economy for postal operators.

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With over a decade of experience as a business and technology journalist working in B2B publishing, Hazel first joined UKi in 2011. After taking 18 months off to bring up her daughter and try her hand at marketing copywriting, she returned in January 2018 to do what she loves best – magazine editing! She is now the editor of UKi's Passenger Terminal World and Parcel and Postal Technology International magazines.

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