Consumers increasingly want to buy from brands who ideally are ethical, moral and have good environmental credentials. Add to this the UK’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, Sustainability is a hot topic. So, if that is the direction of travel for most businesses (and their customers), how do they work to ensure their supply chain is as sustainable as it can be?
Getting buy in
A planned approach is recommended that includes getting stakeholder buy-in by developing a business case. Identifying what the issues are, what the opportunities might be (alongside the risks) will enable you also to think about the support needed to make it happen.
A sustainable supply chain can bring benefits to a business and manage your stakeholder’s expectations. From a brand perspective, you can protect and improve your reputation in the market and even differentiate yourself from your competition. On a more fundamental basis, you can minimise the disruption from any environmental, social or economic impacts or even reduce costs or improve your energy and transportation footprint. All of which should resonate well with customers.
Having a vision
Alongside the plan, you need a vision as to how it is going to work and what your actual objectives are. The vision will give you the foundation on which to build the strategy and make it easier to measure the return on investment. Equally important is to have buy-in from both senior stakeholders and different areas of the business – from sales and marketing to IT and finance – all of whom will play a part in the implementation and longer-term success.
Putting a plan in place
If you’re going to make your supply chain work, it needs to be efficient. If it’s going to be efficient it needs to be planned. There are digital modelling tools to help identify inefficiencies like being able to minimise office space (overheads) or analysing transport networks (to reduce emissions) and in turn, help create more sustainable supply chains and logistics networks. Businesses should identify the options, analyse the data and be clear about expectations for future change. This should reduce wastage and limit spend so could benefit both the environment and profits.
If you’re going to look at a sustainable supply chain, it’s good to work with likeminded companies who share the same values as your business. Those who are environmentally sound and have sustainability at the heart of their business. Obviously, you can’t always control this and sometimes businesses find themselves in the position where a supplier has manufactured something unsustainably – in most cases customers wouldn’t hold your business responsible but rather the external supplier.
To insure your business against such occurrences, it’s crucial that you choose the right partners in the first place. They’ll need to work at the same level and ensure that expectations and lines of communication are clear. Drawing up a sustainability code of conduct is also effective in ensuring everyone is on the same page.
Logistics can make a huge difference in terms of sustainability, where you have a fleet of large vehicles on the road there is always an increased risk of inefficiency.
Optimising the size of the fleet, type of vehicles and geographies of distribution centres all come into play in judging whether economies can be made or environmental impacts reduced - alternatives should be found to operate a slick supply chain and to deliver on the company’s vision and their customers’ expectations.
Operating a sustainable supply chain in today’s market should drive customer engagement and lead to business growth - in a sustainable and ethical way.