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The Who, What, Why and How of Social Responsibility

The Who, What, Why and How of Social Responsibility

by Regina Galvin, Director of Communications, SourceAmerica

Reverse Logistics Magazine, Edition 82

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On your way into the office you stop by your local coffee franchise. Standing in line, store signage informs you that the retailer is committed to offering high-quality, ethically purchased and responsibly produced products. And in case you were wondering, they are also committed to minimizing their environmental footprint and inspiring others to do the same. You walk back to your car with your Guatemalan java and knowledge that your purchase contributed to the greater good.

After work you turn on the news and hear how Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg espoused that values matter more than dollars. Then, while thumbing through your favorite business magazine you discover your local pharmacy has a campaign to promote diversity.

In case you didn’t get the memo, corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is no longer a strategy to take for reputation enhancement. It’s actually an expected practice.

“CSR is a front-burner issue; before people thought of it as a buzz word,” said Marketing and Business Development Director Brian Eddy of Intandem Solutions,, a social enterprise located in Olean, New York. Eddy had served as Reverse Logistics Association’s first chair of the CSR Committee a decade ago and has more than 23 years in the industry.

For a reverse logistics professional, the natural question that follows is, “But how does CSR impact my bottom line?”

Before you can answer how, you should first discern who.

Twenty years ago home improvement retailer Home Depot introduced its first environmentally-themed commercial. Home Depot associates were shown building a habitat for two giant pandas at the Atlanta zoo. The then-CEO donated $500,000 from his Arthur Blank Family Foundation and $500,000 in building materials from The Home Depot to create the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Giant Panda Conservation Center.

Over the last two decades the home improvement retailer rolled up its sleeves and put CSR to work. In 2006, The Harvard Business Review featured the article, “Home Depot’s Blueprint for Cultural Change.” Visit the mega-retailer’s website today and among other items you’ll see in their 2016 Responsibility Report is the statistic of 200 million miles of transported product off highways. For emission-conscious consumers it’s what they want and expect to hear.

Who are those consumers? Move over baby boomers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are roughly 82 million millennials in the United States—25 percent of the population. The millennials, born between 1982 -2000, exceed the number of baby boomers by about 8 million. Additionally, millennials are more diverse group than the generations that preceded them. The 2015 Census reported 44.2 percent were part of a minority race or ethnic group.

This demographic grew up with that Home Depot commercial and CSR as the norm. As consumers, they impact a business’s bottom line.

Bea Boccalandro is founder and president of VeraWorks, a global consulting firm that helps managers and companies develop ways to incorporate societal good into their day-to-day business and measure its societal and business impact.

“CEOs no longer ask me, or anybody, if corporate social responsibility is advisable,” Boccalandro said. “The CSR business case has been made — academics have thoroughly proven that, done well, CSR improves employee engagement, customer loyalty, reputation and, thus, long-term financial performance. Virtually every Fortune 500 conducts some type of CSR.”

Given the prominence and pervasiveness of CSR, it ultimately makes its way to the reverse logistics chain. There are three areas of reverse logistics that particularly relate to corporate social responsibility, according to Eddy.

“Number one: most companies have sustainability or green goals. That’s one area that really aligns with what corporate folks need to do around their metrics and benchmarks,” Eddy said. “Two: risk mitigation in chain of custody. And the last – most companies, especially the CFOs, want to maximize their product recovery values as quickly as possible with the reverse logistics on their returns.”

To create better business value, companies today are looking at the triple bottom line of social, environmental and financial aspects.

“Companies really want to save the planet and reduce their products from landfills but also with the social impact of creating jobs for people with disabilities,” Eddy said. “That’s an added bonus that creates the triple bottom line. It’s a very compelling alignment for companies to partner with [nonprofits] to help them with their problems in this area.”

In fact, the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study found that more than nine out of 10 millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause (91 percent vs. 85 percent U.S. average).

“There is data out there that validates being a good corporate steward is a good business case,” Eddy said.

For most companies, reverse logistics is a non-core activity and is outsourced. Eddy said that makes nonprofits and reverse logistics natural partners.
“More companies should look for nonprofits as a resource and a vendor to help them with their corporate social responsibilities and reverse logistics needs,” Eddy said.

If companies contract with nonprofits that employ people with disabilities, they are benefiting from social and economic impacts.

“We are learning that the highest-impact CSR, for both the business and society, is not writing a check. The most effective CSR makes a social impact from everyday corporate work,” Boccalandro said. “Think of the sales associate who, as they sell the fleece vest woven from soda bottle plastic, enrolls customers into recycling. Think of the parking lot attendant who does a courtesy check for bald tires and helps to prevent accidents. This practice of modifying jobs to make a positive social impact is called ‘job purposing.’ Hiring disabled individuals, or purchasing product from organizations that do, is a wonderful way to job purpose.”

The people at SourceAmerica couldn’t agree more. SourceAmerica is a national nonprofit that creates employment opportunities and choices for people with disabilities through a network of more than 700 nonprofit members.

SourceAmerica’s Senior Sales Team Manager David Brent was a panelist for February’s Reverse Logistics Association’s panel discussion on socially responsible reverse logistics.

He was asked how SourceAmerica helps solve reverse logistics challenges. He responded with what he felt was a triple bottom line solution – CyclePoint, the organization’s information technology asset disposition, data security and recycling service.

“As a function of socially responsible reverse logistics, CyclePoint focuses on the delta between when devices are removed from service and stored or disposed,” Brent said. “The challenge is one of processing capacity and data security.”

Electronics is one of the fastest growing segments of the waste stream. Billions of pounds of old electronics are put into storage each year for lack of an outlet or awareness of processing solutions, according to CyclePoint’s Senior Program Manager Steven Elmore.

“Meanwhile, there are more than 1 million working-age individuals with disabilities in the U.S. who have one of the highest unemployment rates of any population segment,” Eddy said.

A 2015 research report from Cornell University found that 1,056,300 of 12,776,600 non-institutionalized peoples ages 21 to 64 with a disability in the United States who were not working were actively seeking employment.

“So on the one hand we have billions of pounds of material that have value and can be reclaimed for reuse or new product manufacture and on the other, we have a ready, willing and available workforce which, when given the opportunity demonstrates its ability to perform at high levels,” Brent said.

In its first year of operation, CyclePoint handled more than 13 million pounds of material according to Elmore.

“What’s also important to us as a mission-based organization, CyclePoint provided job opportunities for close to 400 people with disabilities,” Elmore said.

Electronic recycling services like CyclePoint help the financial leg of the triple bottom line by reducing overhead expenses such as costs associated with storing off-network server racks, desktops, laptops and other devices. Electronic data breaches resulting from inadequate media sanitation or data destruction practices can be devastating to an organization. IBM’s 2016 Data Breach Study found the average consolidated total cost to be $4 million.
In the academic paper “Reverse Logistics and the Triple Bottom Line” published on, author Larona Moleje wrote that philanthropy and goodwill returns could significantly improve a corporate image and increase market share. Ignoring social responsibility will catch up to companies, and the consumers will be the ultimate judge, Eddy said.

According to a white paper published by human resources software company Lumesse, for millennials, social responsibility is the new religion. But you don’t have to be in your 20s or 30s to understand that hiring a veteran with a disability who recycles electronic parts for a nonprofit to keep materials within a consumer cycle is good for society and good for your bottom line.

“It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s almost an imperative now,” Eddy said. “The customers and consumers demand companies with the highest ethics and highest regards for not only the products but also how they are making them.”

Regina Galvin has been a national reporter, national magazine editor and a chief communications officer of a national nonprofit. Currently she is SourceAmerica’s director of communications.
Regina Galvin has been a national reporter, national magazine editor and a chief communications officer of a national nonprofit. Currently she is SourceAmerica’s director of communications.
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