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Greener Pastures: How to Build a Sustainable Supply Chain

Michael Wilson | Jan 13, 2020

Do you want to create a sustainable supply chain? In the past, supply chains were often harmful, with high carbon footprints due to shipping and packaging processes that focused ...

Do you want to create a sustainable supply chain? In the past, supply chains were often harmful, with high carbon footprints due to shipping and packaging processes that focused more on the bottom line rather than sustainability. But the industry is shifting with the times. In fact, experts predict we’re only about five years away from having more sustainable supply chains across the board.

A supply chain doesn't have to be unsustainable. There are methods you can employ to make it green. Here are some things you should know about.

Waste Reduction

Remember the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reduce comes first. You want to reduce as much waste as possible. Waste is always environmentally-unfriendly, as well as being unfriendly to your budget. You shouldn't be buying things that you don't need!

But how do you reduce waste?

First, try conducting a waste audit. For a week, track what you're putting into the trash. An audit creates awareness so you truly understand what you're wasting and how you can improve.

Your waste audit can break things down into categories, such as paper goods, plastics, and so forth. You can then look at what is being tossed out the most often and use this data as a launching point to take action. If you're consistently wasting things such as paper products, you should consider changing the number of paper products that you're ordering. 

Safer Cleaning Products

Safer, natural cleaning products are a boon to both employees and the environment. Safe cleaning products are less likely to create an adverse reaction in an individual and are safer for the environment when introduced into water runoff.

Often, safe cleaning products are also "low VOC," which means they're low on Volatile Organic Carbons. VOCs are dangerous when breathed in, and they can be dangerous when they're introduced into the surrounding environment. 

Safer cleaning products will also be less chemically caustic and less likely to cause potential injury to employees—while still being extremely effective.

Energy Conservation

Try to use less energy when possible. To make this easier, invest in automated systems such as ones that turn off the warehouse lights when motion isn't detected, or control the warehouse lights in batches rather than the entire unit at once. By using less energy, you won't just help the environment; you'll also save yourself quite a bit on your energy bills.

There are many creative ways to improve energy conservation. Your business can install solar panels on the roof, giving you the power to run lights and more. Your company can create a HAC schedule so that heating and cooling aren't running when it's not needed. You can also conduct an energy audit to help you better understand where your energy is going.

Packaging and Lower Emission

Many businesses today are taking measures to lower their overall carbon emissions. How does this happen? It starts with improving your packaging. Use as little material and produce as little waste as possible. Your vendors and customers are going to appreciate it.

By packaging your products sparingly and making your packages as light as possible, you can easily reduce both your costs and your environmental impact. Show your community that you care by making a point of using recycled packaging that has green labels on it. 

There are also many lower-emission options you can employ, such as sourcing your packaging products correctly and in bulk, to avoid one-off purchases. Choose your methods of shipping based on carbon footprint, too: trucks are more sustainable than boats or planes.

Develop an Action Plan for Success

It's hard to get anything done if you don't have a plan. Don't just strike out toward a sustainable supply chain without having some goals and milestones ahead of you. Create a comprehensive plan regarding how the supply chain should look when you're done. The more detailed plan you have, the more likely you are to be able to achieve your sustainability goals. When things go awry, you'll know what is working and what isn't working.

Building a sustainable supply chain is good for your business, the environment, and your financial goals. Through a more sustainable supply chain, you'll be able to protect the environment while also reducing your own costs. Often, the things that make a supply chain fast and efficient are also what will make it more sustainable, and ultimately protect your bottom line.

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