Circular Supply Chain Network [INTERVIEW]

Written by Justin Kyngdon
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35 minute read


In this interview, Justin Kyngdon explores the circular supply chain and the circular economy. It's getting a lot of hype right now and there's a lot information on the internet, yet it doesn't seem to go into the detail that we require in order to apply this method to our existing supply chains. So in order to understand a lot more about it, Justin speaks with someone who's gone from making supply chain circularity their passion to their mission. That person is Deborah Dull and she runs the circular supply chain network.

Watch the full interview here: 

Justin Kyngdon (Host): Deborah Dull, you are the Circular Nomad. So what makes you circular and what makes you a nomad?

Deborah Dull: Hi Justin, it's great to see you. I'm really excited to be here. So Circular Nomad, the idea is it's two concepts in one. It's the circular economy fit together with being a digital nomad. I move around. In normal circumstances, I'm crossing a border a couple of times a month, and I have been for about the last 10 years.

Deborah Dull: This last year, of course, I emotionally crossed borders and spent a lot of time on Airbnb experiences, which have been a real hoot, to be able to hang out with people around the world. And of course, being able to meet people like you over Zoom and watching a lot of Netflix about other countries. So that's the nomad part.

Deborah Dull: The circular part is that about three years ago, I was introduced to the topic of the circular economy, and it really struck me as such a hard problem to solve, and one where supply chain doesn't have a seat at the table today. And that is slowly shifting, but it's not shifting as quick as it needs to. And I know we'll talk more about that today, but I've really become enamored with these two elements, both circularity and a quasi-nomadic lifestyle.

Justin Kyngdon: So then moving into that, what is circular and what is the circular economy and circular supply chain, I looked at your Twitter feed and I noted a tweet that you'd sent, which was, "The circular economy is based on three principles: design waste out, circulate materials and resources, and regenerate natural systems." So why do we need these three principles on our supply chain horizon?

Deborah Dull: Absolutely. Look. The principles of the circular economy are there to show us, to be guideposts. Circular economy says if you anchor your business in these three principles, you will make more money. To contrast this, we today live in a linear economy. Now if you were not aware of that, do not worry. The majority of the world does not sit around musing about the types of economies we sit in, although I would say we talk about the economy a lot these days.

Deborah Dull: What it means to be a linear economy is that our financial incentives, our marketing messaging, our operations, and our customers all work in a line. We take some items from a planet. Let's call it oil for plastics or steel for automobiles. And we transform those super efficiently. We've been perfecting the management now for several decades. And once that item is used, it's typically thrown away.

Deborah Dull: And of course, the adage here is, "Thrown where, exactly?" Sometimes into landfills. Sometimes it doesn't quite make it there. But its useful life seems to be quite short in reality. And the circular economy says, "Wait. If we circulate these materials and resources, materials looking like plastics or metals, resources looking like heat, water, if we circulate these more and give them more chances to add value, we can actually make more money based off of what's already inside of our economy today," which is really cool because from a supply chain perspective, it allows us to take our variable cost that's normally stuck with our growth numbers and unstick it. It's called decoupling. So we can actually grow in our organizations or in our economies, and the variable costs are no longer so variable, which is really exciting and gives us new ways to build our businesses.

Deborah Dull: So back to these principles. First principle, design waste out. This is about using less, which for supply chain should feel very familiar. I think all of us are given a challenge every year to go find cost savings or material savings or time savings. So this is familiar to us. But this is about making large, structural business model changes. So we see shifts from selling cars to practice a service like Uber or different car-sharing models that are happening around the world.

Deborah Dull: From the industrial perspective, we're starting to see leasing large industrial assets that come along with maintenance instead of buying the equipment outright, and then hiring someone to do the maintenance. And the business model shift really moves into using less and increasing the utilization on any given item. The premise of the circular economy says don't have materials sitting around not adding value because if they're not adding value, we're not making money off of it, and that's lost economic options.

Deborah Dull: Second one that you'd mentioned is circulate materials, and the idea is we circulate them forever. So if you're thinking about plastics or metals, we want to give those many, many, many lives, over and over and over again. So we want to leave an item as itself as long as possible, because that's the most value it can give. Every time we need to tweak it, that costs some money. We have to add more into it. So we want to leave it as itself as long as we can. We want to add some spare parts, allow the spare parts to remain as themselves for as long as possible, and eventually allow that material to be used for something else.

Deborah Dull: Some people tend to confuse recycling with the circular economy. Recycling is a component, but it's really the circle of last resort. So we want to have an item exchanged and used and repaired and remanufactured and refurbished. And then ultimately, if there's literally nothing else that can be done, we recycle it. Recycling tends to use a lot of energy, and at times can reduce the quality of a given material with today's recycling technology, which is changing. So we want to be able to use these items forever.

Deborah Dull:The third principle, like you mentioned, is regenerate natural systems. The idea is that... Look. The way we fuel our... and I say this with air quotes... "fuel" the global economy is with these resources and materials from the planet. If we run out of those, we've lost our fuel. So how do we keep the economy running and how do we keep our supply chains running? And the answer, of course, is that we need to give these materials more lives to live and more value to add to the economy.

Deborah Dull: And so if we can regenerate natural systems, if we can use fast-growth materials like bamboo in place of old-growth, slow-growth wood, then they regenerate much faster. If we can use energy sources like wind or solar, those are all the time regenerating, over something like coal or oil. And so the idea is let's make sure we have a nice, regenerative resource of inputs into the supply chains that make the world go round.

Justin Kyngdon: And when we're looking at that last one, which was regenerate natural systems, is it also then looking at areas that... and you talked about landfill... is it about looking at how we regenerate those systems as we put less into them by adopting these principles? Is that also an objective?

Deborah Dull: Absolutely. I don't know if I'd call it necessarily an objective, but I think it's going to be a byproduct. I think it will become a necessity of... We put 100 billion tons of material into the global economy every year. And as a planet, we're about eight and a half percent circular. So with math, that's 91 and a half billion tons of material that just stops. It just stops. It doesn't do anything else. And so it has a useful life, but then it doesn't do anything. And so wherever it ends up, often landfills, sometimes oceans, sometimes just out in the world, it needs a way to be recaptured, processed transformed, and put into something of higher value back into the economy.

Deborah Dull: I predict by 2050 we'll be mining landfill. The way that we cap our landfills today, they don't really do a lot. So anything we've thrown away is probably about the same quality as when we threw it away. It turns out this has a name. It's called urban mining. Very interesting to go Google it and find the way that the world is starting to think about this. In the next 30 years, it's predicted that 80% of the planet will live in cities. 80, eight zero percent, which is a huge shift from what we see today. So a lot of reasons for this, of course, and what it means for us in supply chain is that we need to start considering a decentralized world where we really function, these cities themselves can become circular economies.

Deborah Dull: With the technology breakthroughs in vertical underground farming, we can use land in a totally different way. So we could actually sustain a city in an encapsulized way. I don't know if that's a word. But the excitement from this is really quite amazing, and to be able to move our "production", which would become quite smaller and much more flexible, to move that as close to the point of use as possible is something we in supply chain have gotten so far away from. We've become so obsessed with low-cost labor that... An example I'd recently given in a keynote is that here in America, we have these little pear cups and plastic cups we put in kids' lunches, and right now, they'll be grown in South America, they'll be shipped to Asia for packaging, and then shipped to America for consumption. That's 18,000 miles for a pear that we grow in America.

Deborah Dull: And so it's just kind of mind-blowing that this has gotten a little bit out of hand how far we're taking this, when in reality, I suspect the pendulum will swing the other way. It doesn't mean there's not room for a global economy. There certainly is. However, I think the space to grow jobs and productivity and technology regionally will be a huge focus for us in the next, let's say, decade.

Justin Kyngdon: So this idea actually, when you mentioned that example of the pears, is that wen we say linear supply chain, that conjures in your mind just a straight line. It comes from a overseas location and then straight into destination location, whereas what you're saying is linear really is a dogleg potentially as it moves around the world where people... And has that been a product... I sometimes think it's a product of chasing the cheapest cost per unit that's driving that. Is that a fair assumption or would you challenge that?

Deborah Dull: I think that becomes the premise. I think the side effect from that has become deep specialization from different markets. And so one country may decide that their big specialization will be packaging technologies and doing packaging extremely efficiently, and that's what they'll invest in. They'll invest in corporate business park and industrial business parks. They'll market themselves to the world in that way. And so then we see sort of this deconcentration within a certain market of this specialized offering into the global economy. And once we do that for several years, then another country doesn't have the capacity or the capability to do that as much anymore. And so while we could have food grown and packaged locally, we often lose the capacity over time, so we end up with a series of market failures which prevent supply chain sourcing managers from being able to find a viable supplier.

Justin Kyngdon: Right. So it's a constraint almost built into the system because of those legacy procedures or legacy objectives by these businesses to drive down that single cost per unit.

Deborah Dull: Exactly. Yup.

Justin Kyngdon: This comes to your pinned tweet, and I'm kind of leaning on Twitter here because I think it gives us the most up-to-date information of people's thinking, at least, and sharing ideas, particularly in the supply chain space. And your pinned tweet is, "A short supply chain is a happy supply chain."

Justin Kyngdon: Now I've never known a supply chain to be an emotion. So I always consider the supply chain as always being a little cantankerous because there's always... it's either about to go wrong... if something's going right, you know it's going to go wrong. So I know you and I have a shared love of cocktails. I make my own coffee cocktail and coffee gin. And so maybe with can talk about... Cocktails always make you happy. So let's understand from that perspective, if you want to use the cocktails as an example, of how a short supply chain is a happy supply chain.

Deborah Dull: Totally. I have so many thoughts to share with you. I will answer about supply chain first, and then I will talk about cocktails. And yes, one of my analogies, my similarities between supply chain and cocktails is the joy they bring to all of our lives.

Deborah Dull: So first, to answer your question, a short supply chain is a happy supply chain. So if we think about some key ways that circular supply chains are different than linear supply chains. Let's start there.

Deborah Dull: In a linear supply chain, everything is about point of sale. Everything. Meeting the customer where they are, figuring out what they read, right place, right time, making that sale. And if you lose the sale, you've lost everything. That will shift in a circular supply chain because it's about use. How many times can an item be used? It's sold again and again and again. So if you lose today's sale, it's okay because there's more users out in the world.

Deborah Dull: We have some focus on maintenance today. That's going to become much higher. We have some focus on returns today, but let's face it. The returns folks are normally down at the end of a dark hallway, and we don't really hear from them that often. They are going to become the superheroes of tomorrow's supply chain, and we're all going to be living in a return supply chain, and we're just going to call it supply chain. That will help, and mark my words, next 10 years, they will be the superheroes.

Justin Kyngdon: Pause there. That is a really interesting comment because even doing the supply chain training internally, we find that the... I just created a bunch of templates, and that is the template last, the reverse logistics. The inbound logistics, raw materials, supply chain, those templates to go out and complete with your customer, are all first and they're the ones that you use the most. The reverse logistics literally doesn't get touched.

Deborah Dull: Correct.

Justin Kyngdon: Now you're saying that's going to come from the bottom of my little slide deck and book of tricks from our salespeople and account management. You're saying that's come to the top.

Deborah Dull: It is.

Justin Kyngdon: I think that's going to challenge a few people listening. So can we just talk about what reverse logistics is today? Because it is the... what is it... the uncle no one talks about. You know what I mean?

Deborah Dull: It's kind of Harry Potter under the stairs. Poor things. And what you've just described, Justin, is the linear supply chain. Of course, you never get anybody anything about returns because it doesn't focus on that one sale point in a line speeding down the runway towards the customer. That's all we ever really optimize for. In the future, though, again, we won't have consumers. We'll have users, and we want as many uses out of an item as we can.

Deborah Dull: My love affair with inventory breaks a little when I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway. Inventory turns. It's not going to be the higher the better. We're going to break the Amazon model. I said it. But it will happen. We just can't continue to sustain this type of linear model that we have today.

Deborah Dull: So if we think about why returns are so hard, it's because it's time to break the linear model that we have. It's the only piece really that is trying to sort of bend. But our ERP systems don't bend, and our contracts don't bend. Everything has been optimized in a line, and it's tough when we start thinking about that. But if we start considering what we need to ask out of our supply chain operations... And let's not be caught by surprise here. I mean, we are running out of material. We have less than 50 years of gold left in the planet. We are running out. And so we have to make a shift. And whether we call it a circular supply chain or not, I don't know. But the concept will remain. And if we in supply chain are caught off-guard on this, it's too bad because we have plenty of time to prepare.

Deborah Dull: So this is one of those times that we can actually get ahead of the capabilities that we need. And if we think about what's required, if everything comes in needs to come from a current operation, that's crazy to consider the world of commodity sourcing as they will be tomorrow. If we need to have a robust take back program in order to keep track of our own assets we've put so much money into developing, gosh, your return logistics folks are going to become your heroes because who else knows how to get something back? But that will start to become this hallmark, a real true pillar of the ability to shift and circulate and share these materials.

Deborah Dull: And it's not like sharing, giving them away for free. We're selling this stuff. Even today already, selling industrial waste in America is a $57 billion a year industry. It's not like this is-

Justin Kyngdon: This is what I wanted to ask.

Deborah Dull: Unfamiliar territory, right?

Justin Kyngdon: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So because your reverse logistics teams need a market to be able to say, "Okay. I need investment because I can give this level of return." So can you go into any more detail? Do you have other examples apart from industrial waste where there is already an established or establishing genuine circular supply chain that we can discuss?

Deborah Dull: Sure. I'm going to use consumer examples because that resonates with people often more.

Justin Kyngdon: Certainly.

Deborah Dull: So the last time you bought toilet paper, it's very likely that on the front, it proudly proclaimed 70% post-consumer paper. Great. That's a circular supply chain. That's a secondary materials market. Alive and well. The last cotton T-shirt you bought, most likely on the label will declare proudly 30% reclaimed cotton. That is a circular supply chain. It's already happening now. We just don't call it that.

Deborah Dull: So there's two. We can keep going. When's the last time... Here's a question. There's a big difference between the U.S. and... I'm going to use Germany. I did a exchange in high school in Germany, and when you get a beer, there's a ring around the outside of all the times it's hit other bottles because it's gone through a cleaning process. They wash them many, many, many times, as many times as they can get it back again, and they charge a lot of money, like $1.50 or $2.00, $3.00 deposit on the bottle for a $2.00 or $3.00 beer to make sure they get the bottle back because they don't recycle it. They wash it with soap and they refill it. So this is actually an even better example of a circular supply chain because the item has remained as itself.

Deborah Dull: If we break down cotton, it gets a little bit less quality every time because that's our current technology. But with a bottle, if it can just remain a bottle, we save all of the time making the glass, melting the glass, forming the bottle, cooling the bottle, moving the bottle, and we forget all that. We just wash the sucker, fill it with more beer, sell it for exactly the same amount as beer in a virgin-made bottle, and it's wonderful. Then you make more money, and that's why we charge so much for these deposits. I don't know if Australia does that, have a reclaim, rewash type of an idea.

Deborah Dull: This is the beauty of a circular supply chain, is that they make so much more money in the soda package in a secondary material than the primary because the primary costs more money to make. But they can charge the same. So the margin is so much higher, and this is where I talk about that decoupling I mentioned. Their variable cost has completely decoupled from the soda they're trying to sell you because they don't have to start from scratch every time. If you don't have to start from scratch every time, the bottle doesn't cost that much to us. We just have to wash it.

Deborah Dull: Even better is if they had a way to be certified by Coca-Cola or whoever for a local, even closer, more local, where they could wash and refill even closer to their stand would be bonus points. But what you've just described is a circular supply chain.

Justin Kyngdon: Okay. Excellent. So to establish the foundations of a circular supply chain, if I'm understanding it correctly, we need to have a market for the circulated goods or whatever that ends up being called.

Deborah Dull: Yup.

Justin Kyngdon: Okay. Brilliant. So-

Deborah Dull: So short supply chains.

Justin Kyngdon: Yes.

Deborah Dull: Okay. The good news is you've described a short supply chain. So circular supply chains are regional. The idea is we capture, transform, and use materials as locally as possible. Because if we're shipping stuff all over the place, that breaks the first principle of use less. Use less transport. Use less fuel. Use less time and keep it local. So what you've described is this shorter supply chain. Also, shorter supply chains can't be as disrupted. So the fewer borders they cross, the fewer miles they drive, the less chance for breaking down, getting caught with paperwork, getting a flat tire, whatever the case is. There's less options. There's less chance for disruptions to happen. So it's lots of different reasons, but that's where the adage, "A short supply chain is a happy supply chain," came from.

Justin Kyngdon: Excellent. So then to me, it sounds like that even if you're not necessarily the country of manufacture, you can be the country of circularity. If you're that destination country, there is an opportunity to create value and wealth, jobs, and so forth, because many of these jobs have left, right? For example, from Australia and gone to other locations for that good to be made. So it sounds like there is the potential if we are going to retain that product within the Australian economy or within the importing economy, wherever that is in the world, is that you can create opportunities for wealth and employment. And I talk about employment because employment brings so much value to people and so forth. So that is what this has an opportunity for as well.

Deborah Dull: Absolutely. It seems counterintuitive, but jobs are cheaper to create in a circular economy than in a linear one. So again, if we go back and think about how much money we're putting into virgin materials... Because you're not just buying the one. You're buying the entire value chain when you pay for it. Right? Again, don't have to start from scratch every time. The labor that goes into... I'll call it refurbishing or remanufacturing... is much higher. That'll freak people out a little bit, but if you do the math, it actually turns out to be much less expensive to create work in these circular supply chains. You're actually going to employ more people for less money and still be able to make a ton of money on your product.

Deborah Dull: So it's a pretty great deal, and I can't think of a single economy in the world right now that couldn't use more jobs. So it's a really nice way to retain the technical skills that again, like you've said, many countries are seeing these shifts. I think it would be a wonderful competitive idea to really lean into the refurbishment or remanufacturing of many items that are being imported right now. Could be a very competitive way to continue to serve a local market.

Deborah Dull: So it's cocktail. Number one, we work within constraints. Sometimes, we have a plan. We can't we don't have any lime juice in the house. We make it work. It's going to work fine. That's number one.

Deborah Dull: Number two, rarely goes to plan. We use the same recipe every time. Let's say we do have a lime. It's more sour than normal. We make it work.

Deborah Dull: Number three, there's classic ratios we use, like in this daiquiri. Three two one ratio. It's the same one we use for gimlet. It's the same one we use for margaritas. When in doubt, use a three two one ratio. Three parts alcohol, two parts citrus, one part simple syrup, sweetener of whatever kind. You've got yourself a delicious cocktail. Same thing in supply chain. You don't know what your run rate is? Just send one for one.

Deborah Dull: Number four. This is the one we almost talked about. They've both enabled success, but sometimes don't get the recognition. Cocktail, social lubricant. We might say, "Nice cocktail," and we completely forget about it and then go on to have a really remarkable evening. Supply chains maybe get a nod of the hat of like, "Good job, supply chain. You didn't mess up the operation," when in reality, we're the ones to operate everything. What do you think?

Justin Kyngdon: I don't know if you can get it on one hoodie, but I think that is absolutely right.

Deborah Dull: Maybe a mug.

Justin Kyngdon: Maybe one of those huge mugs where I've got to drink 10 liters of coffee in one sitting.

Deborah Dull: Exactly. I think there's hope. I think it's possible. Here's my struggle. My team the other day was like, "Hey. We should make more stuff and limited edition and mugs and bags," and I was like, "You guys, that's so linear economy."

Deborah Dull: I'm already struggling with these, but I feel like it's community-building. We have local printing as far as we can. You can point me towards a nice one for Australia. They're trying to pitch me on like, "The America shop covers Australia," and I'm like, "No, it doesn't." Those aren't close.

Deborah Dull: So anyway, I'm looking for local printers everywhere so that we can get as close to the markets as we can and...

Justin Kyngdon: No. That's very interesting.

Deborah Dull: If somebody rips off our idea and prints these, nothing would make me happier.

Justin Kyngdon: Look. I think it's a really good example of where, as you said, a group of volunteers is taking the idea and you're running the experiment on yourselves. And you hear this historically in science, where enormous breakthroughs in science were achieved because the chief scientist tested it on themselves. Right?

Deborah Dull: Yeah. Totally.

Justin Kyngdon: So if you're building your hoodies and you're like, "Okay. We're starting linear and let's go through this," well, when someone asks, "So how do we do this?" you're going to have a brilliant case study that is still going to be live and you've got all the bruises and scars to show, and all the wrong turns you took thinking that would lead you to circularity, but really that person's telling you that they are. You said, for example, "Yeah. We're just printing in Australia," and then I say, "I got a FedEx box," and-

Deborah Dull: Right. This wasn't printed in Australia.

Justin Kyngdon: Not from Australia. Yeah.

Deborah Dull: That's so bad. And so it's a challenge, and we really struggled finding our printer to allow... It's print on demand, so they don't make it till it's actually needed. So that's part of it. And everything we can find, the supply chains behind these are good as far as we can tell. But it's insufficient still. And so we had a conversation as a team, but there's no good decisions in a bad system. And right now, we're in a bad system, and everything we're doing is fighting against it, and we can do so much.

Deborah Dull: Just like I discovered, video is incredibly bad for emissions. So after an eight-hour day, if you're on video the entire eight hours, it's an entire tank of gas in your car. It's the same emissions.

Justin Kyngdon: There you go.

Deborah Dull: But it's like, "Okay." Now if that server farm was run on renewable energy with water from a source that could be circulated, the emissions would come down, so the challenge just becomes that we're in a bad system and we're going to do the best we can.

Justin Kyngdon: Yeah. ASEAN particularly so, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has goals to reduce plastic in the supply chain. In Cambodia, they're turning it into shredding the plastic, rather, and trying to put it into concrete. In New Zealand, there's a business. Admittedly, New Zealand is outside of ASEAN, but they are using plastic waste as aggregate into concrete because the world produces so much concrete. And ASEAN does have a very big plastic issue. Is plastic something that is... I don't know if the word is easily, or is it something that the circular supply chain can achieve in the short-term to clear out the plastic issue particularly in the waterways in ASEAN?

Deborah Dull: Loaded question there, Justin, not going to lie. So plastics are really tough. The reason why I think the world has focused first on plastics is because it's everywhere. Everywhere. The bottom of the ocean, they just found plastic. It's just everywhere. It's light. It moves around. We put all kinds of stuff in it, and it's tricky. Not all plastic is the same.

Deborah Dull: Closed Loop Partners a couple of years ago put out a very interesting white paper, manual, how-to guide about the major different types of plastics and the options for recycling either through what we would traditional or through newer applications of technology, through chemical recycling, which gives us kind of a better shot at retaining a lot of the strength of plastic.

Deborah Dull: So I think it's very visible. It's visible to us as consumers and we bring our whole selves to work. So if we as consumers can understand a concept, then we can start to apply those concepts at work.

Deborah Dull: Plastic is tricky though. It's "easier", I would say, to start with a metal. Scrap metal industries have been around for a long time. Every good Italian mafia movie is involved with scrap metal yard, and it's a great example of a secondary materials market that will continue to flourish, it will become quite large because we can reuse metals in a way that's a lot easier and straightforward than the way that we need to... the technologies we need to apply in order to continue to get value out of plastics.

Justin Kyngdon: Okay. Thank you for uncovering that because it was of interest to me because it does get so much media about circularity. But it didn't seem so obvious as a location to start because of what you said. Not all plastics are equal. Thank you for shedding light on that.

Justin Kyngdon: Now what I wanted to do is just shift to... this is not just a passion for you. It's a mission. And you've started the Circular Supply Chain Network, CSN. And I know you're wearing a piece of CSN merch. So if you want to... So everything is inventory. So can we just spend a few minutes to understand what prompted you to create this network?

Deborah Dull: Yeah. So what did prompt me to start this network? So I've been talking about this for almost three years. Different conferences, different trade associations, universities. And I'm often asked, "Can I read a book? Is there a class I can take? Where do I go to find more?" And there's really not a lot out there. When I started searching this, there were three Google results. Not three pages, three total. And now, there's more. You'll find something if you search for the circular supply chain.

Deborah Dull: The challenge is a lot of what's out there is very surface-level. It's not sufficient if you are a supply chain practitioner trying to actually trying to make changes in your supply chain.

Deborah Dull: What pushed me over the edge was this one week in September that I was asked by a dozen people... we don't know each other... if I would start something, and my initial reaction was like, "Absolutely not." But by the seventh or eighth person, I was like, "Fine. I'll put a Zoom link out in the world." And I put a Zoom link out. I didn't advertise it. I didn't tell anybody, and eight people showed up. The next month, 38 people showed up. And the next month, 50 people showed up. And all of a sudden, here we are with a growing network in different timezones, and we get four or five continents per call. And so it's organically happened, and happened heavily through community involvement.

Deborah Dull: There's a team of volunteers. We're all volunteers putting our time in to pull the world together to understand the biggest questions that exist, how to answer those, and most importantly, how to take action together as a community because people want to do something but they don't quite understand what exactly it is they need to do yet.

Justin Kyngdon: Right. Excellent. Very interesting that it's come from an organic place and that it's taken off across the world. So clearly, there is a need for it then, the circularity piece in the supply chain. But you're absolutely right. You go onto Google and there are a lot white papers. A lot of white papers that can... They go over the dirty little details and then you say, "Okay. That sounds good. But if I've got to walk into a meeting room and put an action plan together, there is literally nothing in this white paper that's going to help me do that." So you're trying to overcome that challenge.

Deborah Dull: Exactly. Yeah. There's three major goals of the organization. People want to learn. They want to connect with each other and they want to take action. What we're doing right now is taking... We're calling it transition model. So how can a linear supply chain transition into a circular supply chain? And at a recent global roundtable, we asked for volunteers to take this down a level of detail. So what I've done is develop seven phases that supply chains will go through. Similar to the different principles, but I make a bit more detailed for supply chain specifically.

Deborah Dull: And it's time to take those down a level. And so just this morning actually, we had a group of 19 folks quite interested in helping to develop this concept further. And so they've decided the next level down is called a checklist. We didn't know if they were questions or actions or what goes... They said it's a checklist. And we're starting to develop those checklists. So out of each of these seven phases we have, we're starting to develop this checklist.

Deborah Dull: We're investing in a platform online so that folks can come to one place to learn, to see interviews, to connect with each other. We have a little fun on the side like these nerdy hoodies, and we're going to have quizzes and trivia. And it's a lot of fun. We laugh a lot in these calls, and at the same time, we're talking about really serious topics on how do we prevent this terrible apocalypse of material insecurity that's just right around the corner.

Justin Kyngdon: Yeah. I can't think of the author, but definitely play and having fun with a problem, and particularly a serious problem, actually encourages innovative, entrepreneurial, creative thought to then overcome this problem. And the fact that you've decentralized the problem solvers from across the world, you're going to get such a diversity of responses. But I think you put that through a process, you'll get some really great ideas, and the not so good ones, they'll get sorted out pretty quickly. But if everyone's having fun, then I'm sure they'll be open to listening.

Justin Kyngdon: And I think it sounds like that's what needs to happen first and foremost is a lot of listening and understanding about what it is, what it is not, what it can do for you, what it can't do for you. Circularity, that is. So it's really interesting. So if you can achieve your objectives, what would that mean to you?

Deborah Dull: Yeah. My answer for you is not really a personal answer. I think a lot about supply chains and the market and the community. And if we actually pull this off, it means our supply chains are more resilient. So they're shorter, less prone to risk, like I mentioned. Our material security is much higher. We've seen that this last year on how insecure and disruptable our supply chains are. We can start other take a couple of big, big steps towards future-proofing our supply chains.

Deborah Dull: Very important that I don't think we talk about enough, we can retain our younger workforce. Gen Z has now entered the workforce. They're fiercely loyal to their own value sets and not at all to companies or brands. We need a better retention strategy, and I think this can help us do that.

Deborah Dull: I think it gives us a hope to restore the environment around us. We talk about 1.5 degrees Celsius. This gives us a path to get there while also making money, which just seems like the ultimate win-win. A lot of financial institutions are starting to invest in circularity because they see this as the future. And again, I'll repeat one more time that there's just jobs that cost less to create. And so the potential for frontier markets to be able to source their own supply chains is something that we haven't seen at this scale before. It's terribly exciting for the markets around the world to be able to be more self-sufficient and employ their own people at the same time.

Justin Kyngdon: So it sounds like there's still a lot of discovery in this space.

Deborah Dull: Oh, yes. Absolutely. We don't know how to do this. I mean, we have examples of existing secondary supply chains and circular supply chains and the markets that are there, but we've examples of something called industrial symbiosis... it's worth a Google... from back in the '60s and '70s, which is where you kind of co-located circular economy or factories share byproduct and heat and water with each other for their operations.

Deborah Dull: So we have examples of this, but every textbook that we have around supply chain, our standards as professionals, are written in a linear fashion. And we have to bend that and we have to start circulating. And we have time. We don't have a lot of time. But if we start now, we have a time to get out of this. McKinsey gives us till 2025 to be zero waste supply chains. Gartner is predicting a 2030 timeline until we have to be functioning in a circular way.

Justin Kyngdon: Right. So it's professional speed, it sounds like we need right now. So last question. Talking about heading into the future, I want you to imagine I'm in a car and I'm heading into the future, driving along, and I see a billboard, and you can put anything you want on that billboard. What would it be, Deborah Dull?

Deborah Dull: Okay. Ready? Are you ready for this?

Justin Kyngdon: Yes.

Deborah Dull: Supply chain is the answer.

Justin Kyngdon: There we go. I love it.

Deborah Dull: It doesn't really matter what the question is. It doesn't really matter. But I will say we have done as many... I'm holding up a hoodie if you can't see. We have done miniature billboards on super, super nerdy circular supply chain things like there's only so much available to promise. This one, everything is inventory. In a circular economy, it is. A short supply chain is a happy supply chain. We have one called smaller circles, which seems to be the crowd favorite. That's the one we've sold most of so far. So these are little miniature billboards wandering around inside people's homes in the middle of a global pandemic, seen by no one but their families, but it still gives me a lot of joy that there's these nerds out in the world.

Justin Kyngdon: Well, it's now on the Zoom call for everyone to see. So I think it's a great... The answer is supply chain and I also think the message that everything is inventory should give a lot people some pause for thought, particularly looking at their reverse logistics programs and how that could be a potential goldmine for them in terms of starting their circular supply chain journey. Deborah Dull, thank you of much for your time today. We look forward to seeing the blossoming Circular Supply Chain Network and hearing more from you. Thank you.

Deborah Dull: Thank you so much.


The secret it seems to the circular supply chain is starting from the end and working backwards. However, this process will take a lot of co-operation from the end consumer and encouraging them to be the catalyst in the circular supply chain. 

To learn more about the Circular Supply Chain Network is doing, please visit their website and/or their Linkedin profile.

Contact Supply Chains Solutions Team

Blog was originally posted on March 30, 2021 1 PM

Topics: Supply Chain

Justin Kyngdon

Written by Justin Kyngdon

Justin Kyngdon is the General Manager of Supply Chain Solutions for Expeditors. Justin leads our practice in South Asia and is based in Sydney, Australia.

35 minute read