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Lori Molinari

Have you ever received a new cell phone and returned it to the store because it wasn't working quite right or you didn't like how it worked? Or bought an expensive electronic tablet only to suffer from buyer's remorse? Or worse yet, just thrown out a broken electronic out of frustration or a no-return policy?

In the consumer retail world, the return of electronic goods is big business as companies begin to focus not just on getting a product to market, but also on returning and recycling products to reduce waste.

This business trend, known as reverse logistics, was the focus of a paper that Lori Molinari, D.B.A., assistant professor of business management, presented at the Second Annual Sustainable Enterprises of the Future Conference at Robert Morris University in September 2010. Molinari received a best paper award for her work entitled "Reducing E-Waste of Consumer Electronics through Reverse Logistics."

The Point talked with Molinari about reverse logistics and other key business trends and how she is using her expertise to educate business students:

What is reverse logistics, and why is it important to businesses in today's competitive environment?

LM: Reverse logistics is the process in which a company becomes more environmentally responsible through recycling, reducing and reusing materials in an attempt to cut down on the consumer electronics that are being sent into landfills and the environment. It starts with the process for returning and exchanging electronics back to the point of origin. For example, with phone replacements that are still under warranty, a company may replace the phone with a refurbished/like new phone (instead of throwing it away and sending a new phone). Other options for companies are to repackage and return the item to inventory; destroy or sell it as scrap; turn it over to a third party to resell; or donate the item to charity.

In addition to teaching, you also work in the business world implementing reverse logistic practices. What exactly do you do?

LM: I work for Ingram Micro Logistics as senior director of business development. We help companies optimize their supply chain efficiencies including inventory management, accuracy, same day shipping and multi-channel fulfillment, as well as transparency, reverse logistics, quality, security, scalability, flexibility, customer service excellence and sustainability. I'm also president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Council of Supply Management Professionals Pittsburgh Roundtable (CSCMP), which promotes networking, educational and developmental opportunities to supply chain professionals in our region.

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How do you use your consulting and business expertise in the classroom?

LM: I share my business experience with my students in all of my courses, which include quantitative methods, marketing and global business. My expertise brings the real business world into the classroom where it can be applied to student learning. These are applied lessons for my students to better understand organizational green reputation and how sustainable initiatives can affect customer purchasing behavior.

What do you think are the future business trends for returning and reusing consumer electronics?

LM: Companies are seeking people with knowledge and expertise of reverse logistics because it is a valuable practice that allows them to maximize efficiency while minimizing costs. There hasn't been much research in this area, so there is a vast opportunity to do more research on reducing e-waste in consumer electronics through reverse logistics. Companies will continue to provide a way for consumers to make these returns. And for students, there will be an increased need for knowledgeable individuals who can work to decrease costs and optimize the supply chain while preserving the environment.

What advice would you give businesses, students and general consumers as they deal with returning electronic products?

LM: First, look into programs and companies that offer a way for you to return your electronics. For instance, AT&T will collect used cell phones from any carrier and handle the recycling process for consumers. Second, be sure to properly wipe all information from the device and prepare it for recycling, most programs ensure that this part is done for you. Send it to the company to handle disposition of the product. Often there are precious metals, LCDs, batteries and other high value parts that the company can reuse or keep in the supply chain. Finally, do not throw away electronics. The batteries and metals can be harmful to the environment so they need to be properly disposed of, and are often reused in the forward flow of fulfillment.

How did you become interested in business trends like reverse logistics?

LM: My business background includes managing international transportation, global freight forwarding, last mile and back again logistics of consumer electronics and fulfillment and reverse logistics in consumer electronics as well as other verticals. My diverse specialized business world experience enhances student knowledge and real world application in the classroom.

Interview by Camille Downing
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for alumni and friends of Point Park University.