Supply chain sustainability is crucial for creating a green business

Supply chain sustainability refers to a company’s efforts to consider the environmental and human impact of their product’s journey, beginning with the sourcing of raw materials to the storage and delivery of goods, and ending with product disposal, including every transportation link in-between.

As you can tell, a single business supply chain involves many processes, moving elements, and pivotal players. With this vast complexity, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that supply chains can account for ~90% of a company’s environmental impact. Hence these systems, which are crucial for the running and upkeep of a business, have an enormous and detrimental effect on our planet.

With this in mind, you can use this Green Business Bureau article as your checklist guide for supply chain sustainability. In this guide, we give you 20 tips on how you can create a more sustainable supply chain. Use this guide as a primer to kick-start your green journey. We’ll then explain how you can build on the tips given in this article with a more comprehensive sustainability guide and green business certification.

Supply chain sustainability checklist guide

Work through our checklist guide below to implement green solutions and create a sustainable supply chain.

Source sustainable goods and materials

  • Tip #1: Purchase durable goods and materials: Durable goods and materials are designed to last longer, to deliver utility over time rather than being completely consumed in one use. Durable goods are typically categorized as having long periods between successive purchases.
  • Tip #2: Seek goods and materials that are biodegradable and compostable: Products that are made from 100% biodegradable and compostable materials contribute less waste to landfills. Plus, consumers are increasingly interested in eco-friendly products, with 48% of them stating they would rather purchase items with eco-friendly qualifications.
  • Tip #3: Choose materials that do not include toxins: Even materials that are biodegradable and recyclable can negatively impact the environment. Such materials can contain caustic or toxic chemicals which harm human and environmental health. Check out the Safer Chemicals fact sheet which lists common toxins to avoid, including asbestos, heavy metals, and organotins.
  • Tip #4: Purchase products and materials that are recyclable: In 2018 over 292 million tons of waste was produced in the US, and only 69 million tons of that was recycled. Where possible, make the switch to recyclable products and materials to reduce waste generated in your business and support a circular economy. Examples include opting for cardboard packaging over non-recyclable plastic packaging.

Work with sustainable and ethical suppliers

  • Tip #5: Assess your suppliers: There are two standardized ways to collect data from suppliers. The first is to use passive assessments – these are particularly useful for companies just starting their supply chain sustainability journey. Passive assessments collect publicly available data from a supplier. The second assessment type is called an active assessment. These assessments give more granular insights and have a bigger scope, with surveys sent directly to the supplier. You can read more about these assessment methods here. Your assessments should be designed to identify high-risk unsustainable suppliers.
  • Tip #6: Have your suppliers ship with minimal packaging: Shipping materials account for ~28% of the total waste produced in the US. To reduce the amount of packaging needed for the ship custom-sizes, invest in custom-sized packaging, use tailored packaging to improve space efficiency in transit, minimize void fill and secondary packaging materials, utilize recyclable and biodegradable materials, and adopt packaging designs that eliminate or reduce the use of tapes and wraps.
  • Tip #7: Source locally when possible: Work with local suppliers to reduce emissions associated with the transportation of goods. This tip also helps your organization become socially responsible by supporting your local community and economy.
  • Tip #8: Source from ethical suppliers: You want to be working with suppliers that support quality working conditions and maintain high health and safety standards. Seek suppliers with ethical certifications such as the Fair Trade Foundation and Fair For Life.

Devise an efficient and sustainable distribution system

  • Tip #9 – Let customers select delivery times: When a customer orders an item let them choose their delivery time slot by offering an eco-friendly option. Eco-friendly shipping will transport items in bulk, reducing emissions. Also, provide the option for customers to offset GHGs emitted from the transportation of goods.
  • Tip #10 – Provide multiple pickup locations: Offering multiple pickup locations will decrease the number of emissions exerted as fewer deliveries are completed, simplifying delivery logistics.
  • Tip #11 – Waiver delivery signature requirements: When packages require a signature to be delivered, drivers can take up to three times the number of delivery attempts. This adds to the total emissions produced from transportation.
  • Tip #12 – Transform your fleet using sustainable modes of transport: If you’re using petroleum-powered fleets, opt for sustainable modes of transportation that can reduce your carbon footprint. More sustainable options include electric fleets, e-bikes, hybrid fleets, small low-fuel trucks, and rail.

Manage scope 3 emissions across your supply chain

  • Tip #13 – Ask for supplier emission data: Scope 3 emissions are the indirect GHGs released due to activities that go beyond an organization’s control. That includes GHGs released across an organization’s supply chain (both upstream and downstream emissions). To be able to account for and reduce your scope 3 emissions, you’ll need to review your suppliers’ emission data. Not only will this give you a more accurate measure of your carbon footprint, but it will also highlight emission hotspots within your supply chain to be targeted for emission reduction. Note that 70% of business emissions can be classed as scope 3 emissions.
  • Tip #14 – Source suppliers who use sustainable energy forms: What energy sources are your suppliers using? Are there alternative suppliers out there using more sustainable energy sources? You want to be sourcing from suppliers who are actively working to reduce their carbon footprint. Cut out big carbon polluters and replace them with sustainable suppliers.
  • Tip #15 – Work with your suppliers to boost energy efficiency across your supply chain: Energy efficiency means using less energy to provide the same service. To reduce scope 3 emissions across your supply chain, you’ll need to address energy inefficiencies head-on. Improving your entire supply chain is not a one-time fix, rather it’s a process to be reviewed and optimized as often as possible. Look to automate key processes and implement supply chain software and technology that allows teams to work as efficiently as possible.
  • Tip #16 – Set science-based targets (SBTS) and include your suppliers: Science-based targets are a set of goals developed to help companies reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, prevent the worst impacts of climate change, and to future-proof a business. Science-based targets are therefore vital for any organization that’s serious about sustainability. Be sure to inform your suppliers of your SBTS to form supportive and collaborative supplier relationships.

Create sustainable end-of-life processes

  • Tip #17 – Strategize to extend your product’s use phase: Durable products are those with an extended use phase. This means your product is robust and you’ve ensured users will want to continue to use your product over the long-term keeping it out of waste streams. To design for durability you need to understand your product’s lifetime, make parts and connections physically robust, and choose materials that wear well.
  • Tip #18 – Make it easy to disassemble and recycle your products: Design your products for disassembly, so your product can be more easily repaired and upgraded, which in turn, extends the product’s useful life. This will also ensure your product is recycled and that product components are easily reused.
  • Tip #19 – Implement effective product repair and upgrade processes: Introduce repair and upgrade operations to prevent defective items from entering the waste stream. Such systems will extend your product’s useful life and slow down the rate of disposal.
  • Tip #20 – Promote the recycling of your products: When designing for sustainability, your product lifecycle should be a closed loop. This not only means using recyclable materials, but it also means minimizing the number of materials used when possible (think about using only one) and avoiding material combinations that are difficult to separate. Make sure materials are adequately labeled to ensure they’re recycled correctly.

Certify your green achievements with the Green Business Bureau

In this article, we’ve introduced 20 tips to help you create a sustainable supply chain. Yet, supply chain sustainability is not limited to these 20 green initiatives. Rather, you should use this guide as a primer, to kick-start your sustainability journey. Following on from this guide, you can extend your sustainability program by introducing more green initiatives, which you’ll be able to find in the Green Business Bureau‘s (GBB) EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment.

That is, GBB’s EcoPlanner and EcoAssessment offer over 400 green initiatives that cover all aspects of a business. Once more, you can sort these initiatives by cost and effort, to make progressive and continuous green improvements. Get certified and showcase your achievements with GBB’s clickable Green Seal of approval, which you can display on your company website. Stakeholders can click on this seal to view what green initiatives your business has successfully implemented, and what green goals your business is working to achieve.

Click here to learn more about the Green Business Bureau and how you can certify your business with green business certification.

Due to the complexity and expansive nature of business supply chains, these systems come with a heavy environmental footprint. As such, a purpose-driven business wanting to make a positive impact needs to incorporate sustainable practices into their supply chain, and following this Green Business Bureau guide will help you get started doing just that.

Lauren is pursing a bachelors in environmental engineering as well as gender studies. She loves learning about the intricacies within each individual major, as well as where they overlap. She is hoping to go into environmental justice after college. In her free time she loves spending time with her cats and dogs, tending to her plants, and reading all sorts of books.

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