I read a thought-provoking article in BusinessWeek last week by Jeff Jarvis (author of “What Would Google Do?”) that asked the following question: If Google ran a car company, what would it look like?  You can read the article for Jeff’s ideas, but in a nutshell, he thinks The Big Three (can we still call them big?) need to transform their product design process, from a closed and secretive process to an “open source” approach that embraces input from customers and third parties.

This article made me think of a book I read a few years ago by William McDonough and Michael Braungart called “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things“).  This book is a must-read for anyone interested in green supply chain management.  This blurb from Publisher’s Weekly sums up the book nicely: “[The authors] argue that conventional, expensive eco-efficiency measures, things like recycling or emissions reduction, are inadequate for protecting the long-term health of the planet. Our industrial products are simply not designed with environmental safety in mind; there’s no way to reclaim the natural resources they use or fully prevent ecosystem damage, and mitigating the damage is at best a stop-gap measure. What the authors propose in this clear, accessible manifesto is a new approach they’ve dubbed “eco-effectiveness”: designing from the ground up for both eco-safety and cost efficiency.”

In late 2007, I highlighted the book in a piece I wrote (“Thoughts on Green Supply Chain by a Carbon-Neutral Analyst“) where I said: “In order to achieve the greatest environmental benefits, with the least cost and effort, companies have to consider sustainability at the design phase, both product design and network design.  Unfortunately, most consumer products are designed with the assumption that they’ll be thrown away someday.  As a former product development engineer, I know that my design decisions and material selections would certainly be different if I had to take the product back at the end of its useful life, disassemble it, and re-introduce the materials back into manufacturing or nature.”

I’ve been making the argument lately that companies should view this economic slowdown as a “catalyst for change”-i.e., as an opportunity to transform their business models, processes, and supply chains.  Last month, for example, I wrote about how shippers and carriers need to innovate the way they work together. 

If Google was in charge of your supply chain, what would it look like?  What would an “open source” supply chain look like, one that fosters greater collaboration and sharing of resources and ideas between suppliers, customers, logistics service providers, and even competitors?  How would you design your supply chain if you had to take your products back at the end of their useful life?

And if not now, when?

Be Sociable, Share!