The record-breaking 20th annual Reverse Logistics Association (RLA) annual conference featured many great events and sessions, including the Women in Reverse Logistics Luncheon with Colleen Robinson, Director of Reverse Logistics at Amazon Lab126, as the keynote speaker, the Interactive Champagne Roundtables, the startup pitch contest and more. But the highlight of the conference was the official launch of the book Going Circular: The Evolution of Reverse Logistics into a Competitive Weapon by former RLA Advisory Board Member and industry leader Richard Bulger.

In a special session, Bulger shared his journey of reinventing reverse logistics at Verizon and Cisco to generate a new revenue stream and returning to school to receive a Master’s in Reverse Logistics from American Public University, the first and only university to offer a graduate degree in reverse logistics. Each RLA Conference attendee received a complimentary hard copy.

Bulger also noted that in 2023 when he spoke at a leadership conference, he encountered about 20 logistics graduates who had yet to be exposed to reverse logistics in their academic curriculum.

Indeed, when I was asked to figure out the returns problems with consumer electronics firm Philips, I relied on the book Going Backwards: Reverse Logistics Trends and Practices, written by Dr. Dale Rogers and Dr. Ron Lemke, to understand the basics of reverse logistics. The book was written in 1998 and has been referenced by many reverse logistics practitioners since then.

Since 1998, however, supply chains have embraced the circular economy. Per Bulger’s book, the circular economy is defined as an economic model that aims to eliminate waste and encourage the reuse of resources by moving products backward to their original source, usually involving the recycling, repairing, and refurbishing products to extend their lifespan and reduce environmental impact.

According to Bulger, with growing environmental awareness and shifting customer preferences toward sustainability, businesses face increasing pressure to manage products from creation to end of life in an environmentally responsible manner. As a result, the balance between environmental responsibility and intelligent business practices is becoming more critical.


A number of trends are highlighted in the book, including:

Material shortages: Over $100 billion flows into the global market annually, stressing the scale of consumption that includes a growing population. Companies will likely feel the pinch in not only shortages but also in higher costs in securing materials. “The future may well belong to businesses that preemptively adopt circular manufacturing principles that reintroduce materials into the manufacturing process,” writes Bulger.

Government pressure and regulations: The increase in consumer electronics purchases has given rise to Right to Repair laws. Currently 27 US states are considering legislation that would make it easier to repair or refurbish items containing electronic components. In addition, platforms such as the World Economic Forum emphasize the importance of embedding sustainable practices into global business operations.

The informed consumer: Speaking of repairability, 96% of American consumers consider repairability necessary when selecting a car, and 77% of Americans value repairability when choosing a smartphone. According to a ThredUP report, 46% of Gen Z and Millennials actively contemplate the future resale value of apparel before finalizing a purchase.

Going Circular is a big deal for those in the reverse logistics space and across the entire supply chain. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “geopolitical shocks and economic uncertainties have highlighted the vulnerability of traditional linear supply chains. Circular supply chains enable businesses to become more resilient by decoupling operations from the extraction of natural resources, thereby increasing material security and reducing exposure to price volatility.”

Tony Sciarrotta is the Executive Director of the Reverse Logistics Association.

This article originally appeared in the March/April, 2024 issue of PARCEL.