Friday, May 24, 2024

Sustainability from source to shelf: The power of a sustainable supply chain


The disruption of COVID-19 delivered a sharp thrust of realization for many businesses as to how vulnerable and outdated their supply chain operations were. However, even before the pandemic, changes such as the rising demand for ever-faster shipping times while incorporating green sustainable logistics and packaging were a necessity for customers who prioritized same-day delivery options. These behavioral changes caused global supply chain managers to reevaluate their operations, hence, ensuring the right product is delivered in the right quality, and quantity, at the right cost within the scheduled time and place.

Globally, businesses are becoming more informed of not only building a sustainable company but also seeking a sustainable supply chain that refrains from negatively impacting the good efforts of a company’s journey to going green. From circular supply chains where products are disassembled or reduced to their raw materials form and remade into sellable products to green supply chains which are achieved by successfully integrating environmentally responsible principles and benchmarks. It includes material sourcing, product design, manufacturing, logistics, and end-of-life product management. Following the growing awareness of climate change, companies have become more informed about the importance of monitoring and managing one’s supply chain. From reducing their carbon footprint, avoiding instances of greenwashing as well as attracting new customers.

In addition, the necessity to know the ins and outs of a supply chain with the global environmental regulations. Various firms have adopted certain strategies and implemented mechanisms toward attaining greater sustainable supply chains:

Setting consistent standards that outline clear benchmarks, targets, and guidelines is crucial for a supply chain sustainability plan to work.

Thereafter, it is disseminated to all stakeholders and suppliers across the chain. Fortunately, in recent times, there are numerous sustainability consultants that help these firms set these goals in defined criteria and digital technologies that have eased the tracking and compliance aspects. Collaborating with different raw materials and low-tier suppliers has improved transparency, enabling managers to combat unethical practices across the chain.

Communicating their successes to all stakeholders enhances the powerful reputational benefit. For a corporation, sustainability reporting is the best choice. Following all legal protocols where all suppliers and companies partner to comply with the outlined regulations and deploy ways how to report. A productive and sustainable supply chain will ensure all legal requirements are met and are up to date.

There are potential benefits for companies that invest more in transparent and sustainable supply chains. Increasing efficiency and decreasing waste are at the core of any sustainability initiative. Reducing packaging, and incorporating recycling while using raw materials more efficiently not only reduces carbon emissions but also costs. Furthermore, by integrating business solutions with smart and cloud-connected techniques, one goes a step further to design products through greener methods. As a result, costs are reduced by using fewer parts, and developing less complex product styles while building circularity where constituent parts are easily disassembled and recycled.

For decades, consumer awareness and preference for sustainable businesses have been steadily increasing. Customers are more inclined to companies that demonstrate strong social and environmental responsibility, gaining a competitive advantage and customer loyalty for companies that indulge. Over the years, there have been incidents of how a dangerous product has slipped and made it into the supply chain, resulting in devastating consequences of consumer injury and product recalling, an act that potentially damages the company’s brand name. More often than not, beyond repair. When digital security solutions are implemented and transparency is enhanced, there are no loopholes for unscrupulous suppliers or manufacturers.

As we are in the era of digital transformation, modern technologies have allowed supply chains to meet and exceed sustainability benchmarks, creating an opportunity to innovate and grow businesses. For the curation and analysis of multiple datasets, artificial intelligence has benefited in collaborating shipments, tracking the status and location of packages, and creating real-time opportunities to utilize less resource-heavy logistics. Machine learning has helped supply chain managers connect real-time devices so as to learn from experience, and discover patterns while automating agile and responsive workflows. These operational optimization measures significantly minimize waste and energy.

With many customers experiencing next-day deliveries, organizations are pushing last-mile logistics and existing warehouse capacity by the use of electronic drones and inventory management robots that are optimized with intelligent automation, a technique to improve workflow efficiency and save on fossil fuel usage across the network. Additive manufacturing has allowed companies to maintain virtual inventories and manufacture stock on demand, enhancing the opportunity to use recycled plastics within the loop. Through sensors, blockchain has enabled the tracking of products and materials from their source, removing any quality or handling issues at any stage. In addition, RFIDs and other portable sensors have been fitted to raw materials and products along the supply chain, achieving an unprecedented transparency level. In conclusion, a sustainable supply chain begins with communication between employees, suppliers, and business partners. The benefits are a worthwhile investment though it requires time and dedication to curate it.

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

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