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Formation of the Sustainable Supply Chain Foundation was in response to a long-time need to link environmental efforts with the supply chain, according to director Richard Bank. "We saw a niche," he says. One of the organization's first contracts is with the Chicago-based International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA). The two worked together to create a Sustainable Logistics Initiative, focusing on six areas of sustainability for warehouses and distribution centers. Covering energy use, water use, propane, recyclables, employee safety and social responsibility, the effort touches on issues related to environmental practices as well as people. The goal, says Bank, was "to do away with greenwashing."
At the same time, participants are striving to make those efforts pay off from a business standpoint. "The bottom line is the key thing," says Bank. "You can do things that are good for the environment and your employees, and better your bottom line at the same time." In partnership with IWLA, the foundation is amassing information and ideas on how to achieve those ambitious goals. It is also working with individual companies to examine and monitor various supply chains from an environmental perspective.
In developing a set of best practices, the foundation is drawing on university and private business research. In particular, it has established a working relationship with the University of Maryland's Supply Chain Center, whose graduates are assisting with research.
Sound environmental practices can also lead to business efficiencies, says Bank. He cites the case of a producer of rolled steel plate, which found a way to place more product on trucks, minimized left turns and made greater use of rail. The result, he says, was a savings of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in transportation costs.
"I think we have found a place in the supply chain that allows us to do good," says Bank.
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