These days, it’s essential for companies and their supply chains to realize that customers prefer to engage with organizations that are focused on environmental sustainability. Significant opportunities exist for leveraging people, processes, and technologies to achieve operational efficiencies. These opportunities, combined with collaborative product innovation, reduce waste while strengthening brand awareness and loyalty.
Efforts to produce a greener footprint span the enterprise. Areas ripe for improvement include:
Sourcing. Manufacturers can make changes in the raw materials they use and the products they produce to better protect the environment. They should work with suppliers that are committed to sustainable practices and ethical behavior, and hold them accountable to their commitments to sustainability. Materials that are sourced should be more environmentally sound, and procurement processes automated to eliminate the use of paper.
Manufacturing. In manufacturing, the focus on greater sustainability is on reducing pollution through increasing re-use, reliability, repair, and recycling capabilities of product lifecycles. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines this movement as sustainable manufacturing: “The creation of manufactured products through economically sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources.” Green chemistry and sustainability create a new reality by requiring chemists and engineers to design chemicals, related processes and commercial products in a way that, at the very least, avoids the creation of toxins and waste.
Recycling. Electronic waste is another area for improving sustainability and helping the environment. According to the World Economic Forum, approximately 50 million tons of electronic scrap are produced each year, but only 20% is recycled. By 2050, WEF says, the amount of e-waste will more than double, to 120 million tons. Employees should be educated to follow eco-friendly actions by recycling materials and eliminating trash. Materials should be reused instead of being added to landfills.
Packaging. Packaging can be made more sustainable by using recyclable materials, or re-capturing packages for reuse. Chemical companies are making plastics that can be 100% recycled and reused. Pallets made of wood can also be reused, as can cardboard boxes. The American Chemistry Council has declared a commitment to recycle or recover all plastic packaging used in the U.S. by 2040. Global businesses need to be aware that many countries are forbidding the use of some plastics, especially the single-use variety, in an effort to reduce pollution in oceans. This will require packaging to be redesigned to eliminate certain ingredients and make it more reusable. Bioplastics might be a temporary fix, but companies should be investing in research and development to come up with future alternatives.
Transportation. Carbon footprints and energy usage related to transportation can be lowered by optimizing shipments and loads. By shipping with fuller trucks, minimizing product returns, and optimizing routes, companies can reduce both fuel usage and repairs. Chemical companies are lowering carbon emissions through the production of alternative fuels such as biofuels, propane, hydrogen and more.
To further sustainability, organizations are connecting supply chains and product innovation with trading partners, thereby gaining visibility into what’s happening up and down the supply chain, uncovering opportunities to reduce waste, and promoting green practices. Digital supply networks, coupled with the pursuit of green initiatives, help companies to improve adaptability and agility. Improved planning reduces inventories, and the automation of manual business processes lowers resource requirements to drive sustainability efforts.
David Cahn is director of global marketing at Elemica.
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