6.7.13

NOBODY KNOWS HOW TO MAKE A TENNIS BALL.

The Weather Channel ran a brief story this morning about the distances travelled by components that become tennis balls in The Philippines for use at Wimbledon.  Here are the details.
For over a century, the Slazenger tennis balls used at Wimbledon made the short journey from the company's Barnsley factory to centre court. Today, a new analysis has revealed, the official balls travel over 50,000 miles around the world before finally arriving from the Philippines factory in which they are now made.

"It is one of the longest journeys I have seen for a product," said Mark Johnson, an operations management expert at Warwick Business School, who conducted the analysis. "On the face of it, travelling more than 50,000 miles to make a tennis ball does seem fairly ludicrous, but it just shows the global nature of production these days, and in the end, this will be the most cost-effective way of making tennis balls."
It helps to know some location theory in order to understand why.
Johnson's research shows materials for the Slazenger balls fly between 11 countries and across four continents before being manufactured in Bataan in the Philippines and then travelling the final 6,660 miles to SW19. He found that the complex supply chain sees clay shipped from South Carolina in the US, silica from Greece, magnesium carbonate from Japan, zinc oxide from Thailand, sulphur from South Korea and rubber from Malaysia to Bataan. Wool is then shipped from New Zealand to Stroud in Gloucestershire, where it is weaved into felt and then flown back to Bataan.
Presumably all of that clay and silica and MgCO3 and ZnO and S and rubber had to be schlepped to Barnsley to be made into tennis balls.  The transportation of wool to Stroud for conversion to felt and thence back to Bataan is the one oddity in the supply chain, but it makes sense that the production plant be located closer to the weight-losing materials, most notably the rubber.  There may be more miles travelled involved this way, but less total mass transported.
Meanwhile, Johnson found, petroleum naphthalene from Zibo in China and glue from Basilan in the Philippines are brought to Bataan where Slazenger, which was bought by Sports Direct in 2004, manufacture the ball. Finally tins are shipped in from Indonesia and once the balls have been packaged they are sent to Wimbledon.
Keep that in mind when reckoning the environmental consequences of preempting Meet The Press for two Sundays in July to offer views of the backsides of tennis players.
Monetary cost has been minimised but, with such a vast footprint, it seems very unlikely that the environmental cost has been even closed to minimised. It is a striking example of how failing to ensure that manufacturers pay the true cost of their environmental impact can lead to extraordinary supply chains in a globalised world.
Put another way, in the absence of carbon taxes, manufacturers still bear the private costs of transportation.  If the new location of tennis ball production lowers transportation costs (as well as probably incurring lower labour costs) the environmental impact is less than it would be if additional ton-miles are incurred schlepping rubber and tin blanks and the various compounds all the way to Barnsley.

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