Product Design for a Regenerative Supply Chain

Product Design for a Regenerative Supply Chain

April 29, 2022

By Samantha Lim, Ph.D. - Senior Manager, Product Management and Innovation

I met Lakshmi on my fourth trip to Mumbai in 2014 doing consumer research for a global CPG company. It was a blazing hot afternoon with the scents and sounds of the vibrant city—street vendors hawking panipuri and chai, cars blaring horns and spewing exhaust, dogs barking and smelling like dogs—baking in the sun and ringing in our ears when she invited us into her modest but comfortable home. She welcomed us with a warm smile and cool drinks, her two young children giggling and playing around us as we asked her very serious, very important questions about…air freshener.

Lakshmi had been using air freshener for the past month, and it was like poetry how she described coming home from a long, hard day of work to the fresh clean scent of my former company’s product. To her, it was more than a scent. It instantly reset her mood and represented a total ambience, a welcome-home feeling she aspired to give herself and her family. The cost made it a luxury, but one that was worth it to her for the feeling of peace that settled on her after escaping the whirlwind beyond her door. 

This was not my first consumer research interview. At the time, I was already three years into what would become my career in product innovation and had done countless in-home voice of customer visits. But the way Lakshmi described the impact this seemingly minor convenience had on her and her family’s life has stuck with me and has guided my design thinking ever since.

Designing for humans and the planet

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to developing a product or service rooted in empathy. Whether it’s air freshener, detergent, software or pallets, the fundamental focus is on the users, digging deep into their day-to-day lives to understand their needs and desires and create something that is truly valuable to them. Lately product developers like me are seeing a powerful and monumental shift from simply human-centered to human-planet-centered thinking in the innovation space.

Having recently joined CHEP in a product innovation leader role, I’ve learned that thanks to our inherently sustainable business model of share and reuse (or “pooling” platforms), we are in a unique position to push the envelope even further with our design—uncovering not just what will have the biggest impact on our customers but also on our planet. CHEP is committed to giving back more resources than we take while collaborating across the supply chain to reimagine the way we move goods that positively affects our planet, our customers and our communities. This regenerative commitment drives our priorities, especially around new product innovation.

A perfect circle

As we were designing our not-yet-launched Q+ quarter display-ready platform, we continually asked ourselves:

•    Who is our customer?
•    What challenges can we solve for them?
•    How can we design a solution that supports our commitment to sustainability?

In creating a brand-new platform for tomorrow’s end-to-end supply chain demands, we have to balance cost, performance and sustainability. As with everything else, cost is often a top concern for manufacturers. And due to our circular pooling program, performance and durability were vital aspects we would not compromise on as they are integral to delivering on our business and commitment to sustainability. However, recycled plastic is known to be more brittle than virgin plastic. Determined to construct the Q+ from 100% recycled plastic, we validated the performance with ISO testing on strength, stiffness and impact to ensure durability and performance throughout the lifecycle of the platform. Incidentally, recycled plastic is typically darker than virgin plastic when processed, which is why our Q+ is black.

Determining how the Q+ was made and of what was only the beginning. But what about the ending? A key question for human-planet-centered design: Where does it go when it’s at the end of its use? The Q+ platform is made from 100% recycled materials, built with durability and safety consideration to ensure product longevity throughout the supply chain, and at the end of life, the platform will be reground to make a new Q+. A perfect circle. It is completely recyclable from beginning to end. 

A perfect circle

New product design principles, built for circularity

The decision to expand our product portfolio is always deliberate and intentional. Any new product must meet specific needs for our customers while simultaneously adhering to our sustainability principles—recyclability, repairability, safety and being material agnostic. We look beyond the product itself so that we maximize network efficiencies and drive optimal sustainability impact. We design in safety – for people, products and processes – solutions that can last the for the long-haul, yet meet fire, OSHA and ISTA standards. A multi-component construction enables us to repair and replace not just large sections of the pallet or platform but also smaller parts, which reduces the overall lifetime consumption of raw materials. Weight optimization for fuel efficiency, as lighter platforms require less fuel to transport, is also an integral design feature - much like with the Q+. And when individual pallet components meet the end of their lifecycle, they too can be repurposed into new components for the future.

Rethinking design

Based on my experience, my advice for innovative product development is to maintain empathy for your customers and envision your end-to-end process. This way you can identify all the touch-points your product will make in its journey throughout the supply chain.

Our sustainability efforts

Explore CHEP's sustainability efforts and how you can join CHEP on our regenerative journey moving from better to positive.
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CHEP Blog: Product Design for a Regenerative Supply Chain | CHEP USA