Coordinated action in reverse distribution systems
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Reverse distribution systems are the topic of this thesis. The term 'reverse' refers to the collection ofproducts at end-of-life for the purpose ofrecovery and waste management. We specifically study the area of electrical and electronic product waste. Such distribution systems are becoming a more visible and commercially significant part of the modern business environment, and this makes them interesting to study. The importance of understanding the interaction effects between the coordination mechanisms of two crucial flows, physical flows and commercial interests, in distribution systems is the main thrust ofthis study. This is something that has largely gone unnoticed in the distribution literature because these flows are essentially explored in two different research traditions. Physical flows have been the focus of attention in the logistics and supply chain management literature, while commercial interests have been tackled by the governance literature. A major theoretical contribution of this thesis, therefore, has been to reunite these complementary aspects of the distribution system in order to make sense of how the two flows work together to create coordinated action, which in turn enables system goals to be achieved. Therefore, our problem statement is: How do the coordination mechanisms for physical flows and commercial interests interact in order to achieve coordinated action in reverse distribution systems? A case study research strategy has been chosen because we are dealing with a relatively new phenomenon that is studied in its real life context. We use three cases, which relate to three different reverse distribution systems - all of which deal with electrical and electronic (EE) products at end-of-life. Each case covers a five-year period, which starts out from the time the initiative was introduced in Norway (1999). The data collection consists of interviews with the different types of actors that take part in the systems and different sources of secondary data. The system has been our unit of analysis, which we believe is a contribution in its own right and another reason for utilizing the case study strategy. Our results show that there are interaction effects between the coordination of physical flows and commercial interests. The choice of coordination mechanisms is interdependent between the two types of flows. We argue that each flow addresses different categories of costs and provides different categories of service and value to the end-consumer segments. In one case we are able to highlight that a lack of coordination across the flows increases costs and reduces service and value, and thus does not achieve coordinated action in the reverse distribution system. In contrast, another case shows that coordination across the flows contributes to lower costs and higher service and value, which suggest that the reverse distribution system achieves coordinated action. Each of three systems has chosen different combinations of coordination mechanisms, which have resulted in different levels of costs, service and value in the reverse distribution systems. To conclude our study, we summarize our fmdings as a set ofpropositions. We also discuss at length two particularly interesting matters that arise from the study, which are the role of a coordinator in the systems and the significance of the collection function. These present opportunities for further research.