Sustainable supply chains

We will now look more closely at how the concept of sustainability can be integrated into traditional supply chain activities.

Supply chain is like nature – it is all around us:

(Dave Waters, International Facilities and Logistics Director, Steris Group)

The rise of global markets and the upsurge of e-commerce have increased the complexity of modern supply chains. To effectively manage the social, economic and environmental impacts of dynamic, multi‐functional, and global supply chains in line with the mandates of the ‘Brundtland report’ (see Step 1.6) and the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ framework (see Step 1.5), businesses must create, protect and grow long-term environmental, social and economic values for all stakeholders involved across the entire product lifecycle and increase the overall supply chain resilience to global environmental impacts (see Steps 1.8 and 1.9).

Defining sustainable supply chains

Various definitions have been formulated throughout time to define the concept of Sustainable Supply Chain Management (SSCM). For example, Seuring and Müller defined SSCM as:

…the management of material, information and capital flows as well as cooperation among companies along the supply chain while addressing goals from all three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, environmental and social) which are derived from customer and stakeholder requirements.

(Seuring and Müller 2008)

In the same context, Klassen and Johnson maintained that an individual business’s environmental impact extends beyond its corporate boundaries and on this basis defined SCCM as the:

….alignment and integration of environmental management within supply chain management.

(Klassen and Johnson 2004)

Based on the Triple Bottom Line concept, Carter and Rogers maintained that a sustainable supply chain:

…includes measures of profit and loss as well as social and environmental dimensions

and suggested that the integration of sustainable principles into supply chain management requires:

…the strategic, transparent integration and achievement of an organisation’s social, environmental, and economic goals in the systemic coordination of key inter-organizational business processes for improving the long-term economic performance of the individual company and its supply chains.

(Carter and Rogers 2008)

Such key inter-organisational processes might include procurement, manufacturing, warehousing, transportation, maintenance, reuse, recycling, disposal etc.

Making traditional supply chains sustainable

Based on the above definitions, traditional supply chains can become sustainable by integrating environmental management principles to the entire set of supply chain operations, including the following factors:

Procurement

Businesses must ensure that they purchase materials and services from suppliers who meet certain environmental criteria in the areas of regulatory compliance, environmental management systems, eco-efficiency and green design (Gavaghan et al. 1998).

Manufacturing

Businesses must use clean technology equipment, renewable energy systems, less natural resources and more recycled/reused materials, and adopt leaner processes to reduce defects, motion, waiting, inventory, transportation, over-processing and overproduction wastes.

Warehousing

Businesses must invest in eco-friendly materials, renewable energy systems, smart inventory and information management systems, as well as energy-efficient equipment to meet environmental management standards and gain green building certifications.

Transportation

Businesses must select appropriate transport modes, fuel types and vehicle technologies, reduce the level of empty-running and better utilise the available back-load capacity, use tracking technologies to optimise routing, assess emissions and perform lifecycle analyses to reduce the environmental transport impacts.

Waste management

Businesses must design and use products with reusability and regeneration potential, adopt appropriate technologies to optimise circularity and reduce the production of wastes in order to move from a linear to a circular economy model.

Urban distribution

Businesses must adopt innovative city logistics solutions and new technologies to reduce the environmental impacts of last-mile deliveries and collections considering their social, economic and environmental impacts.


References

Carter, C.,R., Rogers, D. S. (2008) ‘A Framework of Sustainable Supply Chain Management: Moving Toward New Theory’. International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management 38 (5), 360-87

Gavaghan, K., Klein, R.C., Olson, J. P., Pritchett, T. E. (1998) ‘The Greening of the Supply Chain’. Supply Chain Management Review 2 (2), 77-84

Klassen, R.,D., Johnson, F. (2004) ‘The Green Supply Chain’. ed. by New, S. D., and Westbrook, R. Understanding Supply Chains: Concepts, Critiques and Futures. Oxford: Oxford University Press 229-251

Seuring, S., Müller, M. (2008) ‘From a Literature Review to a Conceptual Framework for Sustainable Supply Chain Management’. Journal of Cleaner Production 16 (15), 1,699-1,710

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This article is from the free online course:

Sustainability and Green Logistics: An Introduction

Coventry University