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Despite a growing body of research on business with and for the Base of the Pyramid (BoP), ecological aspects of such businesses have not been considered adequately in the literature. We take a holistic view on the social and environmental consequences of a specific case of a BoP business. Water sold in plastic sachets in Africa is a typical BoP product with potentially negative ecological impact caused by littering. Reverse logistics activities could mitigate these consequences. At the same time, such activities provide opportunities for poor people to make a living from collecting waste. This in-depth single case study sheds light on the opportunities and disadvantages of informal valorisation in reverse logistics activities from both social and environmental perspectives. The case offers insights into the potential and actual trade-offs in BoP activities in different pillars of sustainability, which are otherwise rarely discussed in academic literature.
The IV concept could potentially be one part of the puzzle in creating a BoP business model with a more sustainable basis. IV provides a social perspective to RL, meaning the inclusion of the BoP segment in supply chain processes. Furthermore, IV helps in integrating ecological issues into the BoP business approach, which so far has been neglected in the BoP literature (Kolk et al., 2014), though it has been discussed in related papers on waste management (Ahmed & Ali, 2006; Scheinberg, 2011). However, a closer look at the market mechanisms reveals a number of trade-offs which hamper true sustainability and questions the entire approach of achieving a reduced environmental burden in the water sachet supply chain through IV. In the following discussion, we will highlight potential contributions of IV for sustainable BoP approaches and then critically discuss trade-offs and hindrances for holistic sustainability at the BoP.