Four Strong Winds: Reusable Transport Packaging Ready for Prime Time?

Updated January 2016

Sudden change, counter-intuitively, is anything but sudden. Just like the old analogy of the lily pads that establish a toehold on a large pond. They diligently yet subtly double every day until on the 28th day they cover one-quarter of the water. On the 29th day they blanket half of it. And on the 30th day they consume the pond.

Sudden change happens when we reach a Tipping Point, but there is a lot of hard work on the way until the conditions are right for takeoff.  Even in recent years people have talked about the pooling of reusable pallets or reusable transport packaging as being a new concept. In the years following World War 2, for example, then NWPCA President Bill Sardo campaigned in Europe and Canada for the establishment of reusable pallet pools that have endured to this day and serve as models for others as reusable transport packaging continues to find new applications.

But now, perhaps we are reaching the tipping point, or what Jean Houston calls Jump Time, when sudden change is possible. With certainty, we are approaching a time of four strong winds:

  • Outside in from a society that is increasing looking to purchase both for value as well as for values, with more trading partners who specify reusable transport packaging, or regulatory requirements to reduce solid waste.  Environmental concerns are important. At the same time, technical advances from RFID to cloud computing are adding new possibilities to established reusable asset management technologies.
  • Inside out from companies concerned about being seen as environmentally responsible and innovative, and therefore more motivated to adopt reusable packaging.
  • Top down from executives wishing to transform their companies into more environmentally responsible entities. Environmentally responsible packaging, including reusable transport packaging, is finding new allies in the Board Room, making for greater acceptance, and for more significant executive support for reusable transport packaging projects that are being initiated.
  • Bottom-up from front line personnel. At many operations, I have discovered a newfound interest of front line staff in “doing the right thing.” Let’s face it. The success of many reusable pallet and transport packaging applications hinges on frontline execution. Does the third shift use the right container for the right order? Does a receiving clerk clean off his cluttered receiving dock to load up reusables onto the truck of a willing driver, even though they shouldn’t go to her? Does the C-store clerk leave the pallets and crates outside where they are vulnerable to theft? Does the delivery driver leave his empty pallets behind because he doesn’t feel like sorting through the stack to get the ones belonging to his company?  Now more than ever, operatives want to act in an environmentally responsible manner, and when they fully understand the impact of their actions, to perform the behaviors necessary to make a personal contribution toward that end.

Sudden change is anything but sudden, but it is an entry point where the impossible is suddenly possible. As Jean Houston cautions, timing is critical.  Be a time gamer, she advises, and not a time victim.  Four strong winds are blowing. Check it out.

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