And I thought that after many years of slow but locally efficient supply chains, lean had taken over: you signed up to the fact that sending a half-empty lorry was acceptable, because it was the speed and responsiveness that won over customers.
Now you find out that sending anything but a full lorry has become a crime again. They say it would not be green. So is it possible to be green and lean, or are we back to square one?
It is difficult to implement in practice, with some real operational dilemmas. But, thankfully, problems can be overcome with some innovative solutions.
Take the full lorry issue: who said it needs to be full with your products? More and more businesses are looking towards 4PLs (fourth-party logistics) to help them be green and stay lean. Where an empty return journey was unavoidable, a 4PL might utilise it for another client's collection!
Another idea for green savings was adopted by Wal-Mart's Canadian operation. It replaced disposable cardboard shipping crates with plastic. This meant they could be used about 60 times, saving $4.5M.
Can you claim that all your stock keeping unit codes are aligned and integrated across the business? If not, what appears to be just a data accuracy issue could actually be costing you lots of paperwork and extra waste due to counting and matching errors.
Best practice is another thing that will get you the lean and green double trophy. I am not talking about adopting some new industry practice, but rather the fact that companies often struggle to communicate their own good ideas. So why not document your own best practices and include them in your supply chain education programme or internal supply chain conference?
A clear message emerges from all this: you can still go green without reverting back to square one and its big batch mentality. It would only be an excuse, not a reason ...
Hugh Williams is founder of supply chain planning specialist Hughenden