A Simple Guide To Making Your Supply Chain Greener

There is usually a lot of room to improve if you just know where to look


Supply chain and plant managers can make their supply chain greener through a variety of ways, some of which require imagination and some, attention to the details. Other steps worth taking are more obvious and already gaining traction all over the world. Wherever you do business and no matter what type of product you have a hand in distributing, here’s what 'going green' might look like for you.

1. Decide what 'Green' means for you

The word 'green' is contextual except as the name of a certain wavelength on the color spectrum. In industry, 'going green' could mean something different to a regional small business than it does to a multicontinental corporation. Step one for greenifying your supply chain means identifying what it actually means to you. Here are some examples of what to 'measure':

  • Your facility’s energy consumption expressed as monthly and annual expenses.
  • The distance that finished products or components must travel to reach you or the party that comes after you in the supply chain.
  • The presence or lack of chemicals which have been identified as a malignant influence on the natural environment.

2. Look for your primary sources of procedural waste

Just as the unexamined life isn’t worth living, so must we always examine what we do and how we do it. The very first step in applying green principles to your supply chain is to discover which steps along the line result in the largest amounts of waste.

Look for processes that often result in badly picked or misplaced orders. See where your processes are slow or unreliable and then canvas your workforce for actionable suggestions.

3. Identify sources of material waste

You might be blown away by the casual waste your facilities engage in without even knowing it. Even minor examples can influence the invisible carbon footprint of your operation. One way to know exactly how much waste your plant produces is to inventory your waste or hire a sustainable-waste management company to do this for you. A Subaru assembly plant in Indiana was able to go from sending 10,000 lbs of waste to the landfill to becoming a zero-waste factory in as little as two years. By analyzing everything from packaging materials to employee lunches

4. Make it a cultural priority

Understanding and then acting on the reality of climate change requires small amounts of skepticism, humility, and imagination, all at the same time. It also means we need to start with the fundamentals and work our way down if we want to get anywhere.

Your company has probably already enshrined the value of efficiency in your workplace culture — so it shouldn’t be a stretch to include 'greenness' as an equally important value. When asked about the cultural element of going green, 47% of corporate representatives indicated that engaging employees and communicating about the reasons for the changes are the biggest barriers to going green.

5. Plant energy efficiency

Have you installed smart thermostats in your office suite? Have you looked at the benefits of switching to LED lighting? How old is your ancient furnace or boiler? Have you provided incentives for employees who carpool to your location during the week? Considered roof-mounted solar panels?

You might be surprised at the opportunities when you go over your facilities with an eye for these details. Conducting a system audit can help you determine if any equipment in your plant needs to be replaced. An audit can also help you uncover hidden operating costs due to inefficiencies in operating systems. Even something as apparently trivial as gaps between switchplates and the wall could leach conditioned air, and therefore energy efficiency, without your even knowing about it.

6. Hold suppliers to higher standards

We’ve spent a lot of time on changes you can make in-house, but you don’t want to neglect your suppliers. Green procurement is a patchwork of terms you might not understand fully but are worth your attention, including 'bio-preferred' and 'safer choice.' If you need help giving your suppliers a wake-up call, or you need to find new partners, you can call on the Green Procurement Compilation and other resources like it.

Don’t decide this is outside your sphere of influence. A supply chain only works if there aren’t any missing links.

7. Make purchasing decisions based on lifecycle cost

The day-one price of a given product is not its real price. Bringing in new materials or equipment to make your life easier might seem great until you factor in the monetary and environmental cost of the power, water, and labor required to operate, maintain and, when the time comes, dispose of said items.

You might believe making purchases this way represents a sacrifice in terms of the bottom line, but these days even green building materials are very competitively priced when you consider lifetime costs.

8. Think differently about the product returns process

E-commerce is booming, but that means product returns are booming too. It doesn’t really matter what type of product you deal with — you could dramatically cut down on expenses and your energy footprint by making refinements to this process. One way to introduce an efficiency of time and energy into your returns process is to designate a single location to it rather than having multiple staffed locations.

9. Reuse products as often as possible

The world’s peoples are all simultaneously reaping the result of generations of 'disposable culture.' There are vast expanses of plastics and trash in the ocean. The average American discards almost four and a half pounds of garbage each day, the presence of which makes domestic landfills a huge contributor to greenhouse emissions.

Many disposable products do not necessarily need to be disposed of after one use. In fact, investing in reusable packaging might even help you prevent product loss.

10. Set meaningful goals

On a global scale, goals help identify realistic benchmarks and work out the timetable required to deliver on them. In some cases, localized goals can also help punch through political roadblocks when traditional policymaking fails.

The same holds true for any supply chain operation, too, and for any entity which makes its fortune moving products around the globe. Apple Inc. has aggressive green goals, including making all of their energy expenditures 100 percent renewable. They have already done so in 24 countries, including China.

If Apple isn’t your preferred role model, there are plenty of others. Look to the larger world community for inspiration beyond the 10 points we’ve discussed today. You will probably be pleased by what you find and so will our Mother Earth.

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