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5 Ways To Enhance Sustainable Supply Chain Relationships

The International cargo container depot at sunset , multiple supply chain truck train and cargo ship working service shipping and transportation concept logistic and transport

Are your supply partners really partnering with you and your sustainability efforts? To function successfully as a team, all members must be on board. Let’s examine how your supply chain can help you reach your decarbonization and sustainability goals faster.

How Supply Chain Partners Effect Sustainability

Supply chain partners play a critical role in a corporate sustainability program because they have a significant impact on a company’s environmental, social and economic performance.  The supply chain has a major influence in a company achieving zero-waste goals because it encompasses all of the activities involved in sourcing raw materials, manufacturing products, distributing them, and disposing of any waste generated through the process.  To complicate things further, they can be located domestically, internationally, or sometimes both.

According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, containers and packaging make up the largest portion of post-consumer waste in the US.  About 31% of the total waste in this country comes from these two items – that’s almost 77 million tons, annually.  ZWIA also states that for every pound of waste thrown away downstream, 71 times that amount of waste is created upstream.  Talk about Scope Three emissions!

ZWIA also states that a typical company only uses 5-10% of purchased materials to actually produce a product.  The other 90-95% is waste. That is why getting supply chain partners to partner with you is vitally important to your end results.

Ways To Make Your Supply Chain More Sustainable

Like the Beatles once sang, “I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends”, today, suppliers need to be embraced as part of the corporate solution in a path to zero waste.  They need to know, understand, and accept the sustainability goals their customers have.  They also should participate in the process more as allies versus purely acting as a vendor.

With that in mind, let’s look at five ways companies can enhance their supply chain relationships:

1. Implement sustainable sourcing practices 

Work with suppliers who prioritize zero-waste policies such as using renewable energy, reducing water consumption, and minimizing waste.  This will help tremendously with eliminating your carbon footprint from the outset.  These sourcing practices should be formalized into your contractual agreements.

2. Engage with sources who have lean manufacturing techniques

 This helps reduce upstream waste by optimizing production processes, minimizing excess inventory, and improving quality control.  In doing so, companies can also reduce costs and increase productivity.  This may require being transparent and sharing successful sustainability tactics with your suppliers.  If your current sources do not possess these lean manufacturing skills you can either provide the training for them, or suggest they obtain additional training on their own.

3. Utilize more responsible distribution methods

By reducing packaging, using more sustainable modes of transportation, and optimizing distribution routes, companies can reduce their carbon footprint and waste generation in the distribution stage.

4. Identify waste reduction and recycling opportunities 

Working with suppliers, companies need to jointly identify waste reduction opportunities.  Examples could include recycling programs, composting organic waste, and repurposing materials, such as pallets.  Through these mutually beneficial efforts companies can create a closed loop system, by diverting materials from the landfill, which reduces waste, and creates value from what was once considered waste.  Many of these processes can also be negotiated into a supplier’s contract.

5. Measure performance and share results

 Companies should work with their supply chain partners to collect data on sustainability performance, such as carbon emissions or water usage, and report on progress toward their goals.  You might even include incentive clauses in suppliers’ contracts offering them rewards for exceeding pre-set targets.

Okapi Provides Custom Solutions for Supply Chain Sustainability

Okapi Environmental Services has a great platform for recording and reporting performance data called Eco-Visor.  This online, on-demand, program is readily available to view for all authorized users. It’s also customizable to develop unique benchmarks, and track the data most important to your goals.

In summary, the supply chain plays a critical role in achieving zero waste goals by addressing waste generation throughout the entire production and distribution process. Companies can work with suppliers to identify opportunities for waste reduction, implement sustainable practices, and create a closed-loop system that promotes circularity and resource efficiency.

If you’d like to know more about our Eco-Visor reporting application, or if you’d want a complementary consultation to discuss ideas for improving your supply chain efforts, please reach out to our sustainability consultants at Okapi Environmental services. We provide tailored strategies and software for your organization’s sustainability initiatives.

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