April 7, 2020

5 Tips for Implementing Sustainability in Your Supply Chain

There are massive changes occurring in today’s supply chains. Broadly, automated changes and data analytics are increasing efficiency and expanding possibilities. If you’re looking to modernize or improve your own supply chain though, there’s something else to consider as well: sustainability.

For the better part of the past decade, this has become an increasingly prominent concern for businesses with shipping and logistics operations. Even several year back, the idea of focusing on sustainability in the supply chain began to be branded as good “business sense,” and a means of protecting against reputational damage. In actuality, there are numerous benefits to making your supply chain more sustainable. But the one many companies are most mindful of today is that it will be appreciated by potential customers. Today’s consumers care more than ever about supporting environmentally responsible companies, which means that sustainable operations are often rewarded with steady business.

With that in mind, we have a few tips for how to implement sustainability in your own supply chain.

1. Communicate New Expectations

Our first suggestion is a straightforward but important one: As soon as you establish new, eco-friendly standards, communicate them to your workforce. This might mean teaching fleet drivers how to optimize their routes to reduce fuel consumption; it might mean teaching any and all employees new ways to log activity so as to identify and address any unnecessary waste; it may even mean something as simple as spreading new guidelines for company-wide recycling initiatives. Whatever it may be though, be sure that everyone involved is aware of sustainability efforts, and how they’re expected to contribute.

2. Modernize Product Integrity Preservation

We tend to think of supply chain sustainability largely with regard to operations. For instance, we wonder if manufacturing processes are generating excess waste, if unused inventory is being disposed of properly, if shipping is occurring efficiently, and so on. These are all important parts of the conversation. However, ensuring the integrity of goods being moved along the supply chain is also of massive importance, as it helps to eliminate unnecessary waste.

To this point, we have written before about cold chain logistics in healthcare, which is an excellent example. Basically, it is the idea that a technological approach can help supply chain managers to monitor the temperature of goods at all times. This ensures that products like medical supplies (or in many other instances, foods) are not rendered useless due to improper temperature control. In this and many other ways, implementing tech-driven ways to monitor products and preserve their integrity from production to delivery can significantly reduce waste — and thus contribute to overall sustainability.

3. Embrace Data

It’s a little bit of an overarching suggestion, but the arguably the best way to prioritize sustainability in any modern supply chain is to embrace data. Tracking everything from product sales, to employee performance, to shipping tendencies can result in a detailed breakdown of supply chain operations. With this information, you can spot many of the inefficiencies that may be leading to unnecessary waste.

4. Mind Your Electronics Suppliers

Part of embracing data means putting entire networks of IoT-connected sensors in place — between vehicles, within the manufacturing process, and even at the point of sale. These sensors and devices can work wonders for your company by communicating all sorts of valuable information about supply chain functions, which in turn can help you to implement more effectively sustainable practices. But you should be mindful of the actual electronics you’re using in this process as well.

The kinds of IoT-connected sensors and devices we’re talking about have led to new demands for internal printed circuit boards, which often need to be made smaller, more flexible, or denser in order to fit the devices while providing full functionality. And when you look into what the components for a PCB are, you quickly see how complex the design process can be. The components used have a significant impact on the manufacturing process, both in terms of what materials are used and where they come from. Accordingly, while this is not a direct part of your own supply chain, sourcing your electronics from providers engaging in more sustainable manufacturing processes is another positive step to take.

5. Look Toward Autonomous Shipping

This may not be a change you can implement right away. But if your supply chain includes shipping operations, you should start to open your mind to the idea of transitioning to autonomous vehicles. An autonomous future for shipping is on the way, and while it isn’t expected to put drivers out of work, it should have enormous benefits from a sustainability standpoint. The expectation is that automated fleets will be able to optimize their own routes, conserve fuel, monitor their own potential maintenance needs, and ensure efficient deliveries in the process. Clearly, all of this can be very helpful in your effort to embrace greater sustainability. And for that matter, even if you don’t manage your own shipping fleet, you may want to consider seeking out a shipping provider that is transitioning to autonomous vehicles in the near future.

Sustainability in the modern supply chain can actually be a fairly comprehensive topic. There are ultimately lots of ways the average company can look to improve its performance in this regard. These tips and ideas can help get you off to a great start though, and before long you might just count your supply chain’s sustainability initiative as a real point of pride.

Piece exclusively written for logmore.com

by Jennilee Bright