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The environmental impact of returns: A holistic perspective

Returns are an integral part of the retail ecosystem, offering consumers a safety net when they change their minds or encounter issues with their purchases. However, beyond the surface of this seemingly routine process lies a complex web of environmental implications that often go unnoticed. In this blog post, we delve deeper into the environmental aspect of returns, shedding light on the significance of reconverting returns for a more sustainable and profitable future.

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Environmental aspect of returns

When it comes to the environmental aspect of returns, the media tends to place a heavy focus on the negatives, particularly concerning return transportation. However, it’s crucial to put this into perspective. While return transportation does have a carbon footprint, it pales in comparison to the overall carbon impact of the entire supply chain, including sourcing and company operations. Returns constitute only a small portion of this larger picture. But does that mean we should dismiss their environmental impact? Not at all.

Crucial impact on profitability

Returns have a substantial impact on profitability, one that often goes underestimated. In the fashion industry, where return rates can range from 20% to 60%, the last-mile section of the supply chain takes a significant hit. This impact extends beyond transportation and includes costs associated with customer service time, administration, logistics, and operational handling. In many cases, both customers and products become unprofitable due to the return process, making it difficult for companies to invest in more environmentally friendly supply chain and sourcing practices.

The unworn garment: The largest environmental impact

To truly understand the environmental impact of returns, we must look beyond the return process itself. The largest environmental impact arises from the resources expended during production. Water, energy, and materials are all consumed in the creation of garments, and when returns are not effectively managed, it can lead to overstock, unsold items, or clothing languishing unused in customers’ homes. The after-sales experience is pivotal, but we must also consider re-processing options such as reusing, repairing, and recycling, aligning with circular thinking. Product owners must take greater responsibility throughout the entire product lifecycle.

Significant impact of return lead time

Return lead time is a critical factor that directly affects the two points mentioned above. Prolonged return processes can exacerbate the environmental impact by keeping products out of circulation for extended periods. This not only impacts resource consumption but also affects sales due to unavailable sizes and products on websites. In fast fashion scenarios with short seasons, such as holiday decorations, delays in return processing can render these items virtually unusable.

Conclusion: Holistic perspective for a sustainable trade

In conclusion, the environmental impact of returns is not solely about the returns themselves. It’s about their ripple effects throughout the supply chain and the broader retail ecosystem. To create a more sustainable and profitable trade, we need a holistic perspective that recognizes returns as an integral part of the process. Whether the problem appears isolated or minor, addressing the environmental impact of returns is essential for building a more eco-conscious and financially sound future.

By reconverting returns effectively, retailers and brands can reduce their carbon footprint, cut costs, and pave the way for a more sustainable and profitable future—one that benefits both businesses and the planet we all call home.