Sustainability is often little more than a buzzword in modern supply chain management. Multinational corporations set sustainability standards and try to follow them, but the issue of maintaining them across a supply chain can be difficult.
True sustainability is a concept built upon three pillars: environments, economics, and people. When supply chain management fails, negative consequences resonate across businesses and consumers. The modern world demands more for companies looking to avoid costly liability lawsuits.
The electronics industry supports a variety of sustainability efforts from materials mining to recycling finished goods. The most visible advocates are in the consumer arena, where Apple and HP are leaders. Researchers estimate that around 40 million tons of electronic waste are generated every year, worldwide. Many electronics OEMs push their sustainability practices down through their supply chains and audit them to ensure compliance.
We’ve laid out three tips here for a more sustainable approach to supply chain management.
- Do your research
Many companies claim to be dedicated to sustainable practices. But how sustainable can a company be if it fails to examine the practices of its suppliers?
Take the example of Nike and Adidas. In 2011, the suppliers of these and other companies were caught pouring toxic chemicals into the Yangtze and Pearl River deltas. Each brand maintained sustainability standards, but this event proved a lack of true commitment. In this case, multinational corporations failed to research the capabilities of their suppliers. In many similar instances, acceptable standards failed across supply chains.
Ultimately in cases like these, some responsibility comes back to the supply chain. Supply chains serve as bridges across companies and industries. This means they should ensure sustainability by maintaining environmental, economic, and human integrity.
This commitment starts with research.
With every bid and order, consider the human element behind the curtain. What kind of production efforts will the desired product need? How many employees and hours of labor will it entail? Often, sustainability mandates like 60-hour workweek limitations are set. However, many companies place expectations on smaller suppliers that make these standards impossible.
When suppliers are overburdened, carelessness becomes more commonplace. Overworked employees represent a safety hazard. Additionally, many of these workers operate on minimal pay.
For sustainability in supply chain management, research into ethical feasibility is a must. Environments, economies, and people cannot hold out in an overburdened system. Instead, a new age of supply chain management should help source goods ethically. In turn, sustainable practices will be promoted for both suppliers and buyers.
- Set sustainability goals
You may think supply chain companies can’t thrive while helping to save the environment. However, many businesses are proving that sustainable economic success isn’t just possible, it often makes perfect economic sense.
A survey by Futerra from 2018 asked citizens of the UK and the U.S. if they would like brands to help them be more ethical and environmentally friendly in their daily lives. Eighty-eight percent said yes. Sustainable solutions appeal to a broad base of consumers and can promote business.
Supply chains are in a unique position to help companies ensure best practices. Making supply chain management more sustainable means setting realistic goals for your business. Here are just a few sustainability objectives supply chain managers can strive for:
- Reduction of carbon emissions through data-driven fleet management and use of electric vehicles.
- Use of supplier-focused finance partnerships to help meet sustainability standards across chains.
- Integration of energy-saving and carbon-neutral technologies.
- Sourcing of products through ethical, local, and researched suppliers.
- Dedication to policies that encourage worker safety and well-being across partnerships.
- Meeting the requirements to obtain LEED, Energy Star, Green Seal, or other sustainability focused certifications.
Consumers of all types are looking for sustainability at the supply chain level. For example, the Ministry of Public Works and Housing in Indonesia has called for a more comprehensive supply chain system that focuses on domestic products. In the wake of Covid-19, sustainability is trending across nations.
All markets show consumers looking for sustainability in the form of ethical business. Supply chain processes need to recognize the integrity of the environment, the economy, and the people that work hard to make it all possible.
Set workable sustainability goals, then commit to a low-waste approach to supply chain management.
- Commit to a low-waste approach
Waste is often an unavoidable aspect of supply chain management. With food storage, transportation, and fluctuating supply, zero-waste is likely not possible. Regardless, the current times demand that we prioritize a commitment to near-zero waste.
In light of Covid-19, economies, businesses, and individuals are facing difficult times. A sustainable approach will reduce some adverse effects of the damaged global economy.
The benefit of lightened urban travel is clearly reduced pollution. Commit to reducing the effects of traffic on urban areas through efficient delivery systems. Efficient routes and electric vehicles can continue these benefits long-term.
No sustainable supply chain approach is complete, however, without a thorough commitment to worker safety. Delivery worker accidents happen all the time. Proper sustainability takes into account the dangers and physical impositions of a job. You can then improve the well-being of a company's greatest resource: its people.
Create shifts that ensure drivers are not overburdened. Make use of eco-friendly fuel solutions wherever possible. Prioritize wellness beyond safety — encourage your employees to take care of their physical and mental health. Additionally, ensure proper Covid-19 measures are communicated and followed through at all times.
Supply chains are the links that unite global industry. Large-scale change for the better can sustainably support the world’s environments, its economies, and its people. These three comprehensive tips put sustainability at the forefront of supply chain policy. In turn, you can help build a better future for humankind.