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10 Technologies That Promise a More Sustainable Supply Chain


10 Technologies That Promise a More Sustainable Supply Chain

Supply chains can often account for more than 90% of a company’s carbon footprint. Finding ways to reduce the carbon cost of moving goods and raw materials could help significantly cut down on the emissions businesses across the economy produce.

The growing demand for sustainable business practices has business leaders looking for ways to shrink company carbon footprints and environmental impacts.

Many new technologies from inside and outside the industry could soon transform the supply chain and help make it far more sustainable.

1. Biodegradable Packaging

Many packaging materials are not environmentally friendly. Plastics — often in materials like styrofoam — are common and can take thousands of years to break down. When they do, they can escape into the environment in the form of microplastics. These are microscopic plastic fragments that can cause a range of health problems in both wildlife and humans.

New sustainable packaging options made from materials like prawn shell chitin, agricultural waste, and beech tree pulp, provide the support that packages need and break down in normal environmental conditions, unlike plastic. The use of these materials can help reduce the long-term environmental impact that non-biodegradable packaging can have.

2. Electric Cars

Electric vehicles have the potential to transform logistics vehicle fleets and last-mile delivery. Already, these vehicles can help businesses sustainably handle last-mile delivery.

As EV infrastructure expands over the next few years, they’re likely to become even more practical, including for companies in rural areas, where EV infrastructure has traditionally been less robust.

3. E-Bikes

Decarbonizing last-mile delivery can be challenging. Electric vehicle fleets aren’t always practical, and the high cost of adopting all-new electric vehicles can be steep.

In dense cities, bike couriers can help reduce the carbon cost of last-mile delivery. E-bikes can significantly extend the range couriers can cover without generating carbon, while also speeding up deliveries completed by bike.

Because these bikes can be charged for as little as $0.50 in major cities, they can provide a valuable and cheap alternative to cars, mopeds, and similar transport options. If necessary, companies can retrofit e-bike batteries and motors onto existing company bikes, reducing the cost of adoption, as well.

While not a total replacement for fleet vehicles, e-bikes are a potential low-carbon delivery solution for logistics professionals in population-dense areas.

4. Hydrogen Aviation and Ship Fuel Cells

While battery technology is improving fast, it’s not practical in every case. Airplanes and cargo ships, for example, can’t support the size and weight of a battery needed to power the craft from port to port or airstrip to airstrip. Maritime and air shipping experts are trying to find a more sustainable fuel instead.

Pure hydrogen fuel produces no emissions when burned. Manufacturers can create it using a carbon-free production method, reversible electrolysis, that requires just electricity and water. Other viable methods include a solar production strategy that draws power from the sun and also produces no carbon emissions.

As these methods come into widespread use, it could become possible for logistics providers to stop using high-emissions fuels like aviation fuel and heavy fuel oil.

5. Electric and Hydrogen Semi-Trailer Trucks

Soon, semi-trucks powered by batteries and special hydrogen fuel cells may also help reshape how goods are moved worldwide.

Cutting-edge electric trucks have a range comparable to semi-trucks with conventional internal combustion engines, meaning the limited range of some EVs, which has slowed adoption in the past, may not always be a problem.

As electric vehicle infrastructure expands, it may quickly become practical for shippers to switch from conventional trucks to electric ones. This could significantly reduce one of the supply chain’s most significant sources of carbon emissions.

Hydrogen-fuel trucks offer similar benefits. Several hydrogen fuel stations for hydrogen trucks are already in the works in America and could soon provide the infrastructure needed to make hydrogen semi-trailers practical.

6. Demand Forecasting Algorithms

The pattern-finding abilities of AI make it an excellent tool for solving complex problems when vast amounts of data are available. With AI trained on sales data, for example, companies can create more accurate demand forecasts and build a better picture of what customers will want and when.

During times of market instability when future demand is particularly challenging to predict, these tools can help reduce supply-side waste and overproduction.

7. Driver Behavior Analysis

Modern telematics solutions can offer data that helps logistics companies significantly reduce the carbon impact of their fleet vehicles. For example, idling can have severe environmental impacts.

Devices monitoring driver behavior can detect whether a driver has left their vehicle idling and for how long. This system can reduce idling incidents, keep companies compliant with local anti-idling ordinances, and reduce the carbon impact of their fleet vehicles.

8. Route Optimization Algorithms

Other sustainable use-cases for telematics include route optimization tools that use live traffic data and can interface with business scheduling systems.

These tools optimize driver routes, ensuring vehicles are spending as little time as possible on the road. This technology can help reduce unnecessary driving, optimize scheduling, and cut down on company carbon emissions.

9. Blockchain

Blockchain, the digital ledger technology that powers cryptocurrencies, can significantly improve supply chain visibility and transparency.

The technology, which provides a reliable and difficult-to-manipulate digital record-generating tool, gives businesses the means they need to improve supply chain transparency and guarantee ethical sourcing practices.

With the secure, trustworthy transaction records stored on the blockchain, businesses have a better chance of knowing how goods supplied by third parties were sourced — and if sourcing was done sustainably or in a way that complements other shipping practices.

10. Exhaust Scrubbers

New technology also makes it easier to retrofit existing shipping equipment to reduce carbon emissions.

Exhaust scrubbers, for example, are becoming increasingly popular among cargo shippers. These scrubbers are used on cargo ships to reduce the sulfur emissions produced by heavy fuel oils and similar fuels. According to an estimate by Bloomberg NEF, 4,800 vessels could be equipped with these scrubbers by 2025.

How New Technology May Enable Supply Chain Sustainability

Because supply chains account for such a large share of business carbon emissions, logistics providers will play an essential role in the ongoing pivot to more sustainable business practices.

Advanced technology will likely be critical for supply chain managers wishing to make their operations more sustainable. Electric vehicles, e-bikes, hydrogen fuel, and bio-derived packaging could soon enable managers to reduce the environmental impact and carbon emissions of shipping.


Corporations Boast, But Small Businesses Are Key To Cleaner Environment

When major corporations tout their contributions to social or environmental initiatives, the world takes note. As just one example, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Google all drew attention at different times this year when they announced plans to work toward becoming carbon neutral.

But, despite the hype that gets associated with these big-business efforts, it may be that small businesses operating in quiet anonymity are the ones that have the greater impact on the environment, both good and bad.

“Large corporations are more motivated to use these initiatives as a means to achieve their financial objectives, whereas small businesses are more serious about making a real difference in their communities,” says Rajat Panwar, Ph.D. (, an associate professor of Sustainable Business Management at Appalachian State University.

“Given that smokescreening and greenwashing are big problems in sustainability, we will be better off enabling small companies to own sustainability more so than large companies.”

That’s one reason why government-sponsored environmental initiatives need to include small businesses as critical partners if they hope to succeed, Panwar says. For example, he says, presidential candidate Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan that sets a target for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 should take into account the role small businesses can play in environmental protection.

Panwar says a few facts worth knowing on the issue include:

Small businesses’ impact is a story of numbers. Although large corporations get more attention, the vast majority of businesses are small. “In the United States, about 99% of all firms are classified as small,” Panwar says. “Even though their individual contribution to pollution is small, collectively it is enormous, which is why it should be addressed. In fact, large corporations often pollute through small firms because it is a network of numerous small firms that feed into value-chains and supply chains of large corporations.”

Grassroots initiatives need to be targeted. A tremendous gap exists between large corporations and small businesses in terms of the resources they can allocate for environmental initiatives. “That’s why climate investments like those Biden is proposing should target grassroots initiatives,” Panwar says. That would include local food production, support to small landowners for sustainable forestry, grants for circular economy initiatives, grants for businesses that would promote fixing and repairing things, local recycling, and sustainable food systems.

Small businesses are inspired by different motivations. Panwar has been involved in research into the social and environmental impact of small businesses, and he and his colleagues produced intriguing results with their study, especially as it related to what motivates businesses to be good stewards. “Small businesses are motivated to pursue social and environmental initiatives mainly to be good community citizens and generate local reputation,” he says. “Large corporations are typically inclined to pursue these initiatives to enhance shareholder wealth.”

Some people may argue that climate initiatives need to take a backseat right now while the country focuses on getting people back to work. But Panwar says economic stimulus can easily be aligned with environmental protection.

“The initiatives I am talking about will produce new jobs that would support the local economy,” he says. “If we only focused on giving energy grants, then I can see the rationale in pitting job creation versus climate consequences. But climate investments can be done very strategically so that small businesses, entrepreneurs, and landowners get the money to revamp their operations.”


Rajat Panwar, Ph.D. (, is an associate professor of Sustainable Business Management at Appalachian State University. He previously was an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. He also has been an Affiliate Faculty member in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, and with the Governance, Environment, and Markets program at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. Panwar holds two doctorate degrees, one in Corporate Sustainability from Grenoble École de Management in France, and one in Forestry from Oregon State University.

Kuehne + Nagel

Kuehne + Nagel Steps Up Environmental Protection Efforts

Kuehne + Nagel has established itself as the first logistics company to join the Development and Climate Alliance, one year after the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development originally launched it, according to a recent announcement. This move creates a new standard for competing international logistics companies to actively take part in environmental protection initiatives.

“Climate change has long been the question of human survival. The industrialized countries, in particular, have a special responsibility,” said German Federal Minister Dr. Gerd Müller. “It is not only politics that is called upon to act, but also the private sector. With the Development and Climate Alliance, we have created a platform for this. I am very pleased that Kuehne + Nagel, one of the world’s leading logistics providers, has decided to join the alliance. This is a major step and shows that environmental protection and entrepreneurial action go hand in hand.”

With the Net Zero Carbon programme by Kuehne + Nagel as the forerunner for joining the alliance, the company confirmed issues associated with CO2 – specifically through transportation options including their supplier airlines, shipping lines and haulage companies, will be addressed through a three-step process of detection, reduction, and compensation of CO2.

“With its Net Zero Carbon programme, Kuehne + Nagel acknowledges – as a first mover in the logistics industry – the responsibility it has for the environment, for the ecosystem and essentially for the people, added Otto Schacht, Member of the Management Board of Kuehne + Nagel International AG.

“By joining the Development and Climate Alliance, we support the goals of the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. As a globally operating company, we are convinced that the private sector must also make its contribution to environmental protection.”


BYD’s Lancaster Plant Celebrates 400th Bus

Los Angeles World Airports welcomed its 20-bus order this week of which included the official 400th bus made by the Lancaster team at the world’s leading electric vehicle company, Build Your Dreams. The 60-foot articulated K11M model transit bus will aid in terminal and gate guest transportation.

“The 400th American bus is another great milestone for our Lancaster team,” said BYD North America President Stella Li. “Since the delivery of our first American battery-electric bus from Lancaster in 2014, BYD has provided buses to customers in 14 states and four Canadian provinces.”

In the theme of emissions-free and environmentally friendly efforts, BYD is proud to represent the largest North American battery-electric bus manufacturer. The company boasts 50 municipal, transit agency, university, airport, federal, and other commercial/private-sector bus customers. Among these customers includes the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Antelope Valley Transit Authority, Denver RTD, Kansas City International Airport, and Solano County Transit.

BYD’s Lancaster team operates a half a million-square-foot manufacturing plant which originated as a 100,000 square foot motorhome manufacturing facility. The more than 750 employees for BYD North America represent expansion and growth seen by the company throughout the last six years, of which $250 million was invested. BYD Lancaster employees include women, veterans and second-chance employees in addition to boasting all-union workforce and a pioneering Community Benefits Agreement.

BYD shows no signs of slowing down emissions-free efforts and will continue breaking ground on innovative, sustainable transportation technology solutions.

“We are passionate about our mission to create a cleaner environment here in North America and across the globe.”