Unpacking Sustainable Returns

Malcolm Wilson, CEO  |  August 19, 2021

Sustainable Returns Infographic b

As consumer purchasing habits changed during the pandemic with a shift toward e-commerce, it stressed global supply chains across a variety of industries. More purchases online led to more returns.

This deluge of returned items poses more than a logistical challenge for retailers and 3PLs ­– it’s also an environmental one. We’re committed to optimizing the efficiency of our operations and making returns management more sustainable through our advanced technology and customized solutions. 

We’re consistently aiming to help customers recycle materials and make our entire returns process as sustainable as possible, from small parcels to big and bulky items that weigh several hundred pounds. Our solutions help customers excel in meeting their environmental, social and corporate governance goals – an area that matters to consumers, too: in a recent global returns survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents rated a sustainable returns program as “very important” when making a purchasing decision.

How is GXO recycling materials to make return logistics more sustainable? 

For a long period, returned electronics devices – smart phones, e-readers, tablets, etc. – were simply discarded and sent to landfills. There was no formal system to sort, evaluate, refurbish and reuse returned devices. We’ve processed, repaired and redistributed tens of thousands of electronic devices through a partnership with a customer to establish industry-leading reverse logistics for the technology sector.

Another cost reducing sustainability effort we’ve implemented involves environmentally-friendly packaging. GXO partners with national providers of packaging that are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative. These manufacturers support local economies and minimize the ecological impact of transporting packaging over long distances.

Part of our approach is to partner with packaging manufacturers to design the best possible protection for awkward or hard-to-ship products, such as countertops. The safety of goods in transit is a sustainable effort since undamaged goods reduce product and packaging waste and mitigate the use of facilities, labor, trucks and fuel needed to return and replace them.

For a major retailer, we developed and implemented a program to recycle or reuse hangers garments shipped on so they did not end up in a landfill. We’ve also launched initiatives to install energy efficient LED replacement bulbs at our facilities in the US and Europe.

For one of our blue-chip customers, one of the largest manufacturers of athletic shoes in the world, our team evaluates every shoe and decides if the quality is high enough for sale at a retail outlet or wholesale store. GXO partners with the client to grind damaged shoes into plastic pellets, which are then used in playground surfaces.

How is GXO utilizing technology to increase sustainability?

In France, we handle throughput of up to 12 million returned products per year via a customized solution that integrates multiple technologies, including a state-of-the-art mechanized sortation system. We use eight automated sorting lines for apparel and another for shoes, both of which are integrated with touchless scanner technology. 

Sustainability matters to consumers – in a recent Statista survey on sustainable consumption in the US, 60 percent of consumers are willing to pay a surcharge for environmentally friendly shipping. Environmentally friendly packaging was also the most important sustainability factor to consumers, according to the same survey.

Many industry leaders across different segments have experienced superb results by trusting GXO to manage their increased returns volume sustainably, a choice that brings retailer and customer satisfaction.