Sustainable supply chains help ensure that products are produced and distributed in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible, while also maintaining a consistent and reliable supply of goods. Those goals are achieved through multiple pathways.
First, sustainable supply chains prioritize building strong relationships with suppliers. They collaborate to identify areas for improvement, setting sustainability standards and goals, and providing support and resources to help suppliers meet those standards. By building stronger relationships with suppliers, sustainable supply chains are better able to address any disruptions or challenges that may arise. A good example is Starbucks’ Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices which assess coffee farms against economic, social, and environmental criteria, and are aimed at promoting transparent, profitable, and sustainable coffee growing practices while also safeguarding the well-being of coffee farmers and workers, as well as their communities. With such practices, Starbucks can ensure more sustainable and continuous supplies of good quality coffee beans in the long run.
Sustainable supply chains also prioritize transparency in their operations. This includes providing detailed information about suppliers, production processes, and environmental and social impacts. By providing greater transparency, sustainable supply chains are better able to identify and address any potential disruptions or challenges in the supply chain. An example of increased transparency is the Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Higg Index, which is a tool that measures the environmental and social performance of apparel and footwear products. By using the Higg Index, companies can get a detailed picture of their supply chain and identify areas for improvement. This allows them to take steps to reduce their environmental impact, improve worker conditions, and ensure a more sustainable supply chain.
These sustainable supply chains focus on improving efficiency in the production and distribution of goods. This includes reducing waste, optimizing transportation routes, and minimizing energy use. By improving efficiency, sustainable supply chains are better able to maintain continuity of supply while also reducing costs and environmental impacts. For example, IKEA has implemented a number of sustainable supply chain initiatives, including using renewable energy sources in its stores and warehouses, optimizing transportation routes to reduce emissions, and reducing waste in its production processes. In 2021, IKEA has launched a new program that will allow its 1,600 suppliers to consume 100% renewable electricity in their production. These efforts have not only helped IKEA reduce its environmental impact, but also improve efficiency, resulting in cost savings and a more reliable delivery of goods.
Sustainable supply chains also focus on reducing the risks associated with the production and distribution of goods. This includes identifying and managing risks related to climate change, natural disasters, political instability, and other factors that can disrupt the supply chain. By reducing these risks, these suppliers are better able to maintain continuity of stock.
How has the work-from-home world affected the environment?
The net impact of work-from-home on the environment is actually quite complex, and depends on a number of factors such as commuting patterns and energy consumption at home and at workplace, both before and after the switch. But let’s first discuss where the potential positive and negative effects come from.
In terms of positive effects, those are mainly: (a) Less greenhouse gas pollution from reduced commuting, and better air quality; (b) Less heating, cooling and lighting needs in offices, and therefore less energy usage and less greenhouse gas emissions, and (c) Reduced paper, plastic, and food waste from the office.
There are of course potentially negative impacts: (a) Increased home energy and water usage; (b) Increased consumption and waste at home. As we have experienced, with more people working from home, there has been an increase in the demand for work-at-home-related purchases from furniture to electronics. This could lead to an increase in waste, especially if some of the waste is not properly recycled or disposed of, which can have a significant environmental impact. (c) There are some longer term effects to worry about too. For example, there might be less people living in the city, and there may be less people using public transit less, and those trends tend to contribute to more energy usage and more pollution.
So where do all those lead us to? Well, here are some takeaways.
First, there could be, on the aggregate, some positive net impact on the environment from work-at-home, but the magnitude of such an impact may not be as great as people thought. Work-at-home alone will not save the planet.
Second, the net impact in a certain area is highly dependent on a host of local geographical, meteorological, and socio-ecological factors: How far do people commute? What are the main modes of transport, and how efficient are they? How energy-efficient are people’s homes as well as their home appliances? So there can be huge differences in the impact of work-at-home across different regions.
Lastly, to all of us, whether we work at home or in offices, pay attention to our own resource-consumption patterns. Can we turn down the thermostat by a couple of degrees in winter (and put on a sweater instead)? Can we use a reusable bag next time we go shopping? Make an effort to conserve energy and minimize all kinds of waste. Individually, we can all make a difference no matter where we are.