An interview with Mark Erickson, RLA Advisor, RLA Recycling and Sustainability Committee Leader
The Reverse Logistics Association (RLA) is committed to educating and bringing together individuals and organizations to address their reverse logistics needs. ServiceCentral supports reuse, repair, and refurbishment and helps to drive resell through these means. Through the RMA process and trade-in tools within our applications, we help drive returns that come into the Circular Economy which then drives reuse, repair, and recycling.
This interview with RLA Advisor and Sr. Business Development Director, Mark Erickson, is part of the ServiceCentral Earth month blog series.
Tell me about your experience in reverse logistics and your role with RLA.
My career began in consumer electronics and that’s where I met Tony Sciarrotta who is now RLA’s Executive Director. Tony and I worked at Philips Consumer Electronics together beginning in the late eighties when companies were mostly focused on forward logistics and just selling products. But, as consumers began returning products at a higher rate, Philips realized they had to do something about it and formed a new department to learn more about why returns were increasing. Tony was charged with reducing returns at Philips and my customer had the largest amount of consumer returns. We later worked together to start a program to refurbish and resell the returned consumer electronics.
When Tony moved on to lead RLA, he asked me to join him.
My primary role is to advise member companies. In this role, I bring companies into the RLA community and encourage them to connect and engage with the association and with other members. Now that individuals aren’t able to meet face-to-face, this kind of connection is more important than ever.
What is reverse logistics and how does it tie into sustainability?
The cornerstone of reverse logistics and returns management is the Circular Economy. We call them the five “R”s: Returns, Repair/Refurbishment, Resell, Reuse, and Recycle.
Broadly speaking, reverse logistics is everything that happens after the sale. We want to do everything we can to keep the product in the hands of the consumer and companies have complex departments and systems set up to make sure they can provide the right kind of service for returns. Companies set up call centers and many choose to outsource their reverse logistics operations to third party depots. They look at the product, examine it, and see what they can do. Can they resell it as a new product? If the answer is no, we can’t put it back in inventory so the next question is, does it still work? If the answer is yes, then we can remanufacture or refurbish it and put it back into inventory. If it’s a product that can’t be fixed or repaired what can be done? Many times you can reuse the parts or take multiple products and harvest their parts to make a new one. You can also harvest for precious metals.
All of these methods come into play in the Circular Economy.
What is RLA doing to help your member organizations with sustainability-related challenges?
One of the things we’re working on is the first-ever reverse logistics directory that will be available to member companies. If someone wants to find a company to work with that has software for example, they can click through the directory and find a company that offers reverse logistics software. The directory will include more than just RLA members. This is an important step because many companies don’t know where to go for their reverse logistics challenges.
We also hold committee meetings every month that are open to our members. Committees meet monthly and feature a member company presentation. These meetings offer a way for people to connect and learn.
Education is a big part of what we do at RLA.
Our monthly webinars are open to the public, not just to members.
Our flagship event is back this year in-person in Las Vegas. The RLA Conference and Expo gives members and non-members alike the opportunity to network, participate in panel discussions, keynote sessions, and meet with vendors on the exhibit floor. Registration for a fee is open to all but members benefit from free admission. For more details, visit our event site.
What is RLA doing to advocate for sustainability?
One of the initiatives that the RLA is very familiar with is the right to repair movement. We believe it is possible to be sympathetic to intellectual property proponents while also supporting the right for individuals to repair their own products.
There are many individuals who are repairing their own products, my son among them. He uses YouTube as a resource to make many common repairs. Many manufacturers are posting videos on how to repair their products on YouTube. Giving individuals the right to repair their own products is important.
We also have an alliance with the Loss Prevention Research Council (LRPC) that focuses on eliminating fraud waste in retail. Other Alliance Partners include the Circular Economy Club, SERI, WERC and WRAP to name a few.
How are your member companies using the Product as a Service model (PaaS) to promote sustainability?
Dell is heavily involved in RLA and one of the things they do a very good job of is promoting sustainability through leasing their computer equipment. They have a pay as you use model. At the end of its lifecycle and when you’re ready for a new computer, you simply return it to Dell and trade-in for a newer model. Cisco does something similar with its servers. Their customers send servers back after a certain amount of time and only pay for usage. These approaches keep ewaste out of landfills. The IoT has made it very possible for us to keep products up to date and that’s a big part of the Circular Economy.
“The whole idea is to keep products out of landfills and that’s our biggest focus. Let’s do everything we can to keep products out of landfills.”
What are your future goals in terms of sustainability?
Do whatever we can to make products circular and keep them out of landfills.
What would be your advice to end users who are seeking to minimize their e-waste footprint?
There are so many options out there to responsibly dispose of your electronics rather than put them in the trash. Companies like Best Buy allow you to return your broken or outdated electronics to their recycle program. There are also charities that take old phones like Cell Phones for Soldiers. There are a lot of people out there who don’t want to buy new. In fact, buying refurbished is especially popular among millennials. My daughter prefers to buy refurbished both to save money and to do her part to protect the environment. She has taught me not to be afraid to buy used but to wear it as a badge of honor. It’s your contribution to the planet.
RLA Advisor, RLA Recycling and Sustainability Committee Leader
Related articles: Giving Earth a Fighting Chance Through Repair and Reuse
What steps do you and your family take to reduce your carbon footprint?
My son and his wife both graduated with a degree in Environmental Economics from the University of Georgia. They are very involved in sustainability and teaching companies about sustainability. I see their lifestyle and I don’t dare to go to their house and throw anything away in the wrong trash can. They’re very vocal that you put your trash in the right place.
Living in Atlanta, an easy step I can take is to ride MARTA. There are so many benefits to taking public transportation one being that it’s good for the environment. It’s also nice to not have to think for a change when going from here to there. Wi-fi thermostats are a great way to monitor and program the temperature when you are home or away.
What ways are you celebrating Earth Month/Day this year?
I remember the very first Earth Day in 1970. It’s incredible how things have evolved. Now, it’s not just a month that we celebrate or a day that we take steps to protect the planet, it’s a lifestyle that we live every day.
What role do you see repair and reuse playing post-pandemic?
Now that we’re so close to post-pandemic, we expect to see a huge influx of returns for a couple of reasons. One, during the pandemic retailers didn’t want you to bring things back (especially to brick and mortar stores) because they didn’t want you coming into the store. So, they extended their returns window. Plus, on the online side, there are trailers full of returns that haven’t been processed yet. There’s all this product out there sitting in trailers. Post pandemic, we’ll have an onslaught of products coming into the Circular Economy and it’s going to be very busy.
The Reverse Logistics Association is the authoritative body for best practices related to reverse logistics. RLA is a member-driven, global trade association for the returns and reverse industry. The RLA offers information, research, solutions, and facilitates networking introductions for manufacturers, retail companies, and third-party providers. Our goal is to educate and inform reverse logistics professionals globally and be the voice of the reverse industry. Joining RLA has a host of benefits. Learn more.