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  December 22nd, 2017 | Written by

Five Unanswered Questions About Supply Chain Sustainability

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  • Are supply chains inherently unsustainable?
  • Is a zero-emissions supply chain possible?
  • It’s in the best interests of a business to keep its raw materials available for the future of their business.

Most modern businesses are fully behind the idea of sustainability. Whether it’s because of climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution, decreasing wildlife diversity, or even ocean-noise pollution, it’s hard to ignore the damage that we’re doing to the planet.

As such, the idea of supply chain sustainability has caught on a lot in recent years. It’s because of this idea that great strides have been made in terms of reducing carbon emissions, waste, and other pollutants. However, alongside these victories, there are many businesses keen to use the phrase “supply chain sustainability”, without exactly highlighting what they’re doing or what supply chain sustainability actually means.

Many Unanswered Questions

How should supply chains deal with wastewater pollution?
It’s not a glamorous topic, but wastewater pollution is a serious issue. As part of their production line, many food and drinks businesses wind up with a lot of water which can’t be reintroduced to the ecosystem, but it can’t simply be flushed away either.
Thanks to developments in technology, businesses have found ways to deal with this sort of pollution. However, far too often, businesses wind up polluting rivers with dirty wastewater anyway. The harsh truth is that — if they can get away with it — it’s cheaper and easier to pollute.

Then, there’s the even more intimate topic of poop pollution. When you flush your toilet, you use up a lot of water to do so. When an entire factory’s worth of staff flushes the toilet hundreds of times a day, it adds up.

Wastewater treatment facilities are meant to deal with this sort of wastewater, but a surprising number are unable to. On the one hand, it’s not the job of businesses to deal with this sort of wastewater pollution; it’s the job of wastewater treatment facilities. On the other hand, a polluted water system affects all of us, and anything we can do to reduce the amount of wastewater we produce is a good thing.

Are Supply Chains Inherently Unsustainable?

This is a tough question, but it’s a necessary one. While it’s unfair to say that all supply chains are inherently unsustainable, some certainly are. The raw resources of your product are the first issue. While replanting trees cut down by a business is a popular idea, the data shows that—in England at least—this is not happening.

It’s in the best interests of a business to keep its raw materials available for the future of their business. Yet, the palm oil crisis is just one example of how a raw material many businesses use needs a hard rethink. If it is possible to make palm oil a sustainable ingredient in your product, how? If it’s not, what alternatives are there?

This sort of thinking needs to be done throughout the entire supply chain. Can a warehouse be made more sustainable? Are some production techniques inherently unsustainable? Then, of course, there is the question of emissions.

Is a Zero-Emissions Supply Chain Possible?

Reduction of carbon emissions is one thing, but it’s not a permanent solution to the issue of climate change or air pollution. A permanent solution needs to come in the form of a zero-emissions supply chain run entirely by renewable energy. If it sounds impossible, it’s only because it’s never been done before.

Immense progress has been made. The ever-ambitious Elon Musk beat his own 100-day deadline to install the world’s largest solar-powered battery in order to power an entire Australian town on 100 percent renewable energy. If it can work for an entire town, it could easily work for a business or factory. What’s more, once installed, those business would never have to worry about energy bills or reducing emissions again.

In terms of transport, Tesla is also making strides with its electric powered cars, and is even working on electric-powered transport vehicles for supply chains. With enough investment from businesses, entire supply chains could be powered by electricity from renewable energy sources. A zero-emissions supply chain is possible if we want it.

Justin O’Sullivan, the owner of Storage Equipment Experts, delivers safety inspections for warehouses across the UK and Ireland. He is passionate about supply chain safety as well as supply chain sustainability.