Environmental Supply Chain

What is environmental Supply Chain sustainability?

Optilon Crew

It can be challenging to understand what environmental Supply Chain sustainability is all about.

Sustainable Supply Chain management starts with being aware of your company’s environmental, social, and economic impact and, most importantly, making the necessary changes to lessen it. The process can involve everything from a warehouse’s source of power to transporting goods and beyond—recirculating components or ensuring that the biodiversity stays intact. The specter is, so to say, broad.

We define Supply Chain Sustainability as:  

“Efforts to consider the environmental and human impact of their products’ journey through the Supply Chain. From raw materials sourcing to production, storage, delivery and every transportation link in between”.

Environmental Sustainability
Environmental Sustainability aims to improve human welfare by protecting natural capital (land, air, water, minerals, etc.). Initiatives and programs are defined as environmentally sustainable when they ensure that the population’s needs are met without the risk of compromising the needs of future generations. Environmental Sustainability emphasizes how a business can achieve positive economic outcomes without doing any harm, in the short- or long term, to the environment. An environmentally sustainable business seeks to integrate all three sustainability pillars, and to reach this aim, each one needs to be treated equally.

Climate change refers more specifically to anthropogenic climate change, meaning the rapid rate at which the temperature of our planet and its atmosphere has increased over the past century due to human activity and can result in large-scale shifts in weather patterns. Some gases in our atmosphere make it work like a greenhouse, and we call them greenhouse gases (GHG). The higher their concentration, the more they trap heat. The greenhouse includes carbon dioxide, methane, ozone, nitrous oxide, etc.

Decarbonization in the Supply Chain
Since the industrial revolution, we have been burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas; therefore, our human activities have contributed to a 45% increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. There is a correlation between CO2 concentration and temperatures – when the CO2 emissions increase, so does the global average temperature on earth.

For many, environmental Supply Chain sustainability is primarily about the use of natural resources and the climate impact of the company’s actions. As a rule, it is not enough to look only at one’s value creation. After all, a typical consumer-goods company’s Supply Chain generates far greater environmental costs than in-house operations: for instance, it is responsible for more than 80 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions and more than 90 percent of the impact on air-land, water, biodiversity, and geological resources.

The term decarbonization of the Supply Chain means the reduction of carbon. It is the conversion to an economic system, a new way of operating, which sustainably reduces and compensates carbon dioxide emissions (CO₂).

Green House Gas emissions are divided into three scopes:

1. Scope 1: Direct emissions resulting from vehicles, fuel use, and/or chemical leakage

2. Scope 2: Indirect emissions resulting from bought electricity, cooling, heat, and/or steam

3. Scope 3: Other indirect emissions that occur in the value chain of a company and are not already included within scope 2 (such as emissions resulting from purchased goods and services, transport, or business travel)

According to Normative, 90% of a company’s emissions are in scope 3.

The role of the Supply Chain going forward
Companies face a huge environmental challenge if they intend to meet the current EU climate targets; they will have to more than halve their greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030.

Given that prosperity and consumption will continue to grow in the coming years, a fundamental change in thinking is required; new business models—especially those relating to the circular economy—will have to gain an increasingly firm footing.

It is essential to understand where emissions come from to figure out how a company can most effectively reduce emissions and which ones can and can’t be eliminated with the current approach and activities. Today we know that emissions come from many sectors, and we need many different solutions to decarbonize the economy. 

Supply Chain decarbonization is a multi-faceted challenge which means working closely with the suppliers. There is an urgent need to change how companies work with their suppliers to lower the carbon impact and improve the operational implications.

The task is hence to:

  • Create an environmental data baseline (including GHG scope 1, 2, 3)
  • Engage the suppliers in the action’s
  • Perhaps redesign the Supply Chain network, which could potentially also mean the flow of goods

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