Thursday, July 18, 2024

Decarbonizing your supply chain


The imperative for businesses to decarbonize in response to climate change and increasingly stringent policies is undeniable. For businesses, this means not only reducing their carbon footprint but also extending those efforts to their entire supply chain, from production, transportation, and distribution of goods and services. 

Before embarking on any meaningful action, it’s crucial to gain a thorough understanding of the current state of emissions within your supply chain. This entails quantifying emissions across the entire value chain, spanning from the extraction of raw materials to the disposal of products. Through meticulous measurement and reporting, businesses can pinpoint emission hotspots and prioritize areas for intervention. While initially challenging, especially when existing data is scarce, it is important to start with the information at hand and progressively enrich the dataset as operations unfold. Tools such as life cycle assessment (LCA) and carbon footprinting offer invaluable insights into the environmental impact of products and processes, facilitating informed decision-making. 

Once the baseline emissions are established, transparent reporting mechanisms should be put in place to track progress over time. This not only holds businesses accountable but also provides stakeholders with visibility into sustainability efforts. By setting clear emission reduction targets and regularly reporting on performance, companies can demonstrate their commitment to decarbonization and inspire others to follow suit. 

Related: Sustainability practices in the upstream and downstream supply chains

With a thorough understanding of supply chain emissions, the next step is to engage suppliers in collaborative efforts to reduce carbon footprints. Some organizations resolve to lay down the law and tell stakeholders what to do, but that is not the way to go about it. Building a collaborative partnership based on trust and mutual benefit is far more effective. It’s about working together towards a common goal of sustainability and ensuring that everyone involved feels valued and empowered to make positive changes. This may involve sharing emission data, setting mutual targets, and implementing best practices for sustainable production and transportation. By working together, businesses can leverage collective expertise and resources to drive meaningful change across the entire supply chain. 

Transportation accounts for a significant portion of supply chain emissions, making it a key focus area for decarbonization efforts. Businesses can reduce emissions by optimizing transportation routes, consolidating shipments, and utilizing low-emission modes of transport such as rail and sea freight. Embracing technologies like route optimization software and vehicle telematics can further improve efficiency and reduce fuel consumption. Moreover, businesses should look for opportunities to streamline logistics operations and minimize unnecessary movements of goods. Just-in-time inventory management, warehouse consolidation, and reverse logistics for product returns are low-cost ways of decarbonizing supply chains while improving overall supply chain efficiency. 

A crucial step towards decarbonizing supply chains is transitioning to renewable energy. This could take many forms including investing in on-site renewable energy generation, purchasing renewable energy credits, and collaborating with utility providers to source clean power. This extends to businesses encouraging suppliers to adopt renewable energy solutions and supporting them in making the transition. This may involve providing financial assistance, sharing best practices, and forming partnerships with renewable energy providers. By working together to increase the uptake of renewable energy, businesses can drive systemic change and accelerate the transition to a sustainable energy future. 

Finally, decarbonizing the supply chain requires continuous innovation and collaboration across industries. Investing in research and development to identify new technologies and processes that can further reduce emissions throughout the value chain is imperative. Collaborating with peers, academia, and government agencies can also foster knowledge sharing and accelerate the adoption of sustainable practices. 

Also read: Supply Chain Sustainability: A Key to achieving an organization’s climatic goals

Market mechanisms play a crucial role in financing the decarbonization efforts needed to combat climate change. These mechanisms provide incentives and financial support for businesses to invest in low-carbon technologies and practices. One such mechanism is carbon pricing, which puts a price on carbon emissions, encouraging companies to reduce their carbon footprint or face financial penalties. Additionally, carbon markets allow companies to buy and sell carbon credits, providing flexibility and incentivizing emission reductions where they are most cost-effective. Moreover, green bonds and sustainable investment funds offer capital for projects aimed at reducing emissions and transitioning to renewable energy sources. Businesses can look into these mechanisms and leverage them to access the funding needed to drive decarbonization efforts and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy. 

Decarbonizing the supply chain is a complex but essential undertaking for businesses committed to addressing climate change. By following these steps and integrating sustainability into every aspect of their operations, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint, mitigate environmental risks, and build a more resilient and sustainable future for all. 


Dr. Edward Mungai
Dr. Edward Mungai
The writer, Dr. Edward Mungai, is a global sustainability expert. He is the Lead Consultant and Partner at Impact Africa Consulting Ltd (IACL), a leading sustainability and strategy advisory in Africa. He is also the Chief Editor at Africa Sustainability Matters. He can be contacted via

Read more

Related News