Supply Chain 101: what is it, really, and why should businesses (or you) care?
Supply Chain Defined
A supply chain can be thought of as the energy expended by a company, its suppliers, its distributors and any other player with a role in the manufacturing, packaging, storage and distribution of a product and its subcomponents. Put more simply, it’s all the “stuff” involved in getting a product from idea to end user.
Why It Matters
As environmental concerns grow, more attention is being paid to the environmental impact of products, but it often stops with the physical properties of the product. “Does it use Earth-friendlier materials than alternatives? Can I recycle or compost it after use? Or, better yet, is it reusable? Does it replace the need to use multiple things?” These are great questions to ask when considering how eco-friendly a product might be, but it shouldn’t stop there. A product’s entire lifecycle should also factor into its “greenness.”
The Whole Package
Beyond the makeup of the product, one obvious consideration is how it’s packaged. It’s no secret that shrink-wrapped, brightly colored packaging common in retail display is wasteful. In an effort to “stand out” amongst the sea of sameness, brands revert to louder, bolder and often more wasteful retail packaging. Check labels or markings for PCR (post-consumer recycled) content or FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification to determine if any consideration was given to waste reduction. It’s also what’s on the inside that matters; foam, air cushions and peanuts can be tough on the environment, and smarter packaging techniques can eliminate the need for these materials.
Where the products are made, where they’re stored and how they ultimately arrive to their final destination are important details. Consider this: besides eliminating the single-use spray bottle, Truman’s refills provide a huge reduction in delivery footprint. It would take more than 30 semi-trucks to haul the full-bottle equivalent of the Truman’s refills that could fit in one truck. Size matters.
We also chose to ship directly to homes, offsetting the need to go from factory to distribution center to retailer to home. This is a point often debated — is it more efficient to have all of your products delivered at home, or for you to make the drive to the store and pick up many different products in one trip? For us, the former made more sense because our refills ship in envelopes via your mail carrier and can be delivered in multi-packs because they’re non-perishable. Buying from a retailer can make sense if the product is more economical to ship in bulk (like a ready-to-use cleaner) to a central location. Retail also makes sense for brands when there’s a learning curve or experiential factor to the product, as this “touch and feel” opportunity can cut down on wasteful returns.
We use minimalism as a “North Star” in our decision-making process. Looking for opportunities to improve the efficiency of the production, packaging and delivery of products isn’t just a good thing for the environment; it’s better for the bottom line. Here are a few concrete examples of small decisions that add up to make a big impact:
- One bottle. By labeling our refill cartridges (and website), we were able to commonize our spray bottle and reduce complexity in our supply chain. We’re also able to forego the label (which is often plastic) found commonly on big cleaning brands’ products.
- Creative packaging. We use our shipping box to self-contain refills in the flap of the box.. We’ve won some awards for our packaging, but the funny thing is we just wanted to cut waste and cost. It’s a win-win.
- No instruction manual. It’s such a simple concept, but little things add up. Printing our instructions directly on the box allowed us to cut down on one more thing that ultimately ends up in the trash.
- Remote working opportunities. Ok, so this one isn’t about our supply chain, but it definitely reflects our principles. Many of Truman’s team members simply require a computer and internet access, so why make them drive a 5-passenger car solo to a central location every day? Whether you look at it as company perk or practicality, this decision also allows us to recruit talent anywhere.
Given the breadth of a supply chain’s impact, expect us to factor minimalism into every decision the company makes. Can we launch one product to do the work of many? Can we package things in a way that reduces transportation or material costs? What are the most efficient delivery methods? These are the questions we’ll continue to ask ourselves, and hope other brands will take into consideration. We’re also planning to conduct (and publish) a lifecycle analysis, which is a more formal way of “scoring” the impact of our supply chain. Keep your eyes peeled/ears open/nose to the ground (or any other body part euphemism) for more on the topic and, as always, write to us if you have any questions, comments or dirty jokes.