Sustainable Supply Chains

Re-Posted from an article on, September 23, 2013

Modern social and political trends have increased our awareness of sustainability across a large spectrum of endeavors, from reducing our environmental impact through green living at home to advocating far-reaching advances in the minimization or repurposing of residential and industrial waste at factories and manufacturing facilities. One area where companies are consistently striving to detect deficiencies in the effectiveness and efficiency of their sustainable operations is with their supply chains.

Supply Chains Becoming More Sustainable

Developing strategies for improvement can often be a more difficult challenge than making changes internally, because a company’s supply chain encompasses partners, vendors, manufacturers, transportation companies, suppliers, and service providers from many different parts of the globe. Where one link in the logistics chain may be making great strides toward sustainability, another link may be failing miserably or ignoring the matter altogether. While a company itself may achieve nearly 100% reduction in the environmental impact of their manufacturing and processing facilities, this may be offset to the point of being entirely nullified if there are not sustainable components of their supply chain.
Many governments and agencies on several levels from local to national are developing regulations and guidelines for the implementation of sustainable practices in business, from daily operational duties to country-to-country logistical procedures. Some companies like United Airlines, McDonald’s, the Ford Motor Company and Walmart are implementing their own sustainable supply chain initiatives. Even though a component of the overall supply chainmay be located in a geographic area where well-developed regulations may not be established, that company’s operations likely involve international trade, which would require that it conform to guidelines in the country or area where it conducts a portion of its business. This overlap in operations can help propel some companies into a sustainable state of mind by virtue of it being a necessary part of doing business.

The Future of Sustainable Supply Chains

Going forward to the end of 2013 and beyond, more companies than ever before are taking a hard look at their operations on all levels from in-house operations to the links in their global supply chains. Many are already involved in some level of sustainable initiatives, while others have a very positive view of progress in that direction. The benefits of adopting sustainable practices across all levels of a supply chain include:

  •   Reduced operating costs
  •   Building better relationships with suppliers, partners, vendors, and service providers
  •   Enhancement of a company’s brand image
  •   Improved employee retention and morale
  •   Encouragement of innovation in research and development
  •   More efficiency in meeting the needs of customers and partners

A Sustainable Supply Chain Survey for 2013 identifies several areas where collaboration and mutual engagement are considered vital to achieving sustainability goals, and those areas are:

  •   Information transparency and informing suppliers and partners of objectives and goals
  •   Innovation in business practices to find sustainable ways of doing business
  •   Consultation with experts and each other regarding sustainability efforts, objectives, and progress
  •   Analysis of operations to determine areas in need of improvement
  •   Education of all relevant parties to increase sustainability awareness
  •   Incentives to encourage and reward accomplishments in achieving sustainability

The future of sustainable supply chains has the potential to be both prosperous and productive, as long as the key players are willing to commit their businesses to the fulfillment of long-term, large-scale goals that have an impact on more than just themselves. The efforts of one company will only have a significant effect on that company, but when all those involved are taking steps to embrace and adopt strategies for sustainable operation, that united effort to achieve a common goal can have significant effects that extend outward like ripples in a pond.