Climate experts across the globe have issued red alerts for businesses of all sizes to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints. At the same time, consumers are increasingly demanding that companies demonstrate a commitment to the environment.
While implementing a strategy for sustainability looks different across industries, nearly every business can partner with distributors that have a sustainability-first mindset when it comes to supply chain logistics. More manufacturers are seeking out distribution partners that recognize the immense impact the supply chain process can have on the environment.
For distributors, implementing more sustainable supply chain practices may seem daunting, especially when faced with increased demand for goods without the proper materials or labor to successfully meet needs. However, in the long run, incorporating sustainable practices not only helps save costs on packaging and fuel, but it also enhances supplier predictability which can cut down on product shortages and lead to long-term benefits.
With materials and labor issues expected to last well into 2022, it's essential that businesses keep sustainability top-of-mind in the coming months and years.
Executives and team must look at their businesses holistically and identify any gaps where sustainable practices can easily be implemented, such as box sizes, packaging materials, number of vehicles used to transport goods, the amount of material wasted during the shipping process and more. No step toward a more sustainable supply chain is too small.
The pandemic shed light on ways improving certain aspects of logistics, such as cold supply chains, can help reduce waste. Because the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines must be shipped and stored at very specific, low temperatures, for instance, the demand for cold supply chains caused new challenges that led to increased levels of medical waste.
As part of the solution, third-party logistic (3PL) companies played a bigger role in transporting temperature-sensitive goods. Due to their specific expertise in cold chain logistics, a strong understanding of local rules, customs, environmental conditions and an idea of how long it will take to transport goods, 3PLs stepped up to the plate to help reduce waste.
Looking beyond the cold chain, 3PLs can be further leveraged to limit waste for a more sustainable future.
Diversifying the business
Another great – and perhaps unexpected – way for businesses to enhance sustainability is by diversifying their hiring practices.
In the supply chain industry, it's invaluable to hire people with diverse backgrounds who approach logistics from unique points of view.
Hiring professionals with different specialties allows for fresh perspectives and an opportunity to innovate new and impactful strategies that tackle sustainability.
Sustainable packaging practices
Businesses striving to operate more sustainably must consider out-of-the-box solutions – both literally and figuratively.
Consider packaging. Many times, companies ship items in boxes that have a great deal of “dead space,” which means the box is much bigger than what’s necessary. When companies make the transition to box sizes and shapes that are better fitted to the items being shipped, more products can be packed inside shipping vessels. This leads to quicker delivery times, less labor, smaller carbon footprints, reduced number of shipments and overall cost savings.
Additionally, it’s essential for distributors to view the packaging procedures from start to finish. This includes implementing processes that ensure temperature-sensitive products aren’t wasted in transit, using boxes and packaging that can be sustainably disposed and leveraging reusable products. A simple option is to use shipping pallets, which are created using eco-friendly and recycled materials and can be reused. Each pallet can reduce the use of up to 60 boxes. This not only saves money on packaging, but it also eliminates the need to dispose of materials after each shipment, ultimately saving time and reducing the environmental impact.
While important innovations have been made in supply chain sustainability over the years, we still have a long way to go. It’s important that sustainability remains a focus, even as many companies struggle to navigate today’s unique supply chain challenges.
In the future, expect to see an increased influence of artificial intelligence and automation to help meet consumer demand, maximize box validation, predict supplier inventory and determine which method of transportation will leave the smallest carbon footprint. The future for supply chain sustainability is bright, as long as it remains a top priority and continues to be improved upon by dedicated individuals and technological advancements.