Sustainability is a hot topic that’s on everyone’s minds these days. We’re seeing the impact that climate change is having on our weather patterns. As human beings, we should be doing all that we can to create a more sustainable future.
My expertise is in telecom supply chain. In my travels throughout Southern African, Europe, and North America, I’ve taken notice of different tactics that telcos are using in their warehouses and supply chains to reduce their environmental footprint.
Here are 7 tactics that you can use to enhance the sustainability of your supply chain operations.
Packaging is an unavoidable part of the supply chain, and it has a huge impact on sustainability. Unfortunately, it’s less expensive to purchase virgin packaging than recycled packaging, so the bottom line often wins out in which materials are sourced. I understand the logistical reasons why this is the case, and it shouldn’t be that way, but it’s the reality when it comes to these essential supplies.
That said, re-using packaging is a simple initiative to implement, and it’s one we’re successfully using at our Bradian warehouse in Johannesburg. Instead of purchasing packaging to ship products to the retailer, we will re-use or re-purpose the packaging that the product arrived in. This is a quick win that’s easy to implement and should be your first step when your organization adopts a sustainability strategy.
As an added bonus, this strategy dramatically reduces your packaging expenses, which is more important than ever as the cost of packaging has risen exponentially.
Natural resources are at a premium, and the situation is only going to get worse. According to UNICEF, two thirds of the world’s population experience severe water scarcity for at least one month each year.
One simple change we can make is to collect rainwater runoff for non-potable uses, like flushing toilets. With their large roofs, warehouses are perfectly suited for this. It’s one step warehouses can take towards becoming self-sustaining.
Those large warehouse roofs are good for another sustainability initiative – installing solar panels. In South Africa, we suffer from load-shedding, or rolling blackouts, when our electrical grid can’t meet the demand. This is happening elsewhere too on a more limited scale, like in parts of Europe and some American states.
By investing in solar, you can power your facility directly, rather than drawing power from the grid. Unless you’re running shifts 24/7, most facilities don’t require power in the evenings. This can be a quick and cost-effective upgrade.
Better yet, you may even be able to sell excess power back to your utility provider depending on your local regulations.
Another upgrade that goes hand-in-hand with solar panels is electric vehicles (EVs). Once you’re producing your own power, there’s an additional incentive to switch to electric vehicles for your plant (free charging!).
What I’m seeing in most facilities is that EVs are winning hands down. It was common to use electric vehicles inside the warehouse, but outdoor vehicles would typically run on gas (propane), as you couldn’t use those in an enclosed environment. But we’re starting to see people moving to EVs for the yards as well due to the impact on the environment.
With solar panels on the roof, now can now charge those electric vehicles for free, and even extend this option for staff vehicles, which is a nice perk that further promotes EV adoption.
How materials are shipped has a big impact on the environment. The International Transport Forum reports that trade-related freight transportation accounts for roughly 7% of global emissions.
When it comes to the shipping of product over long distances, companies must choose between sea freight and air freight.
Air freight wins hands down when it comes to shipping speed, arriving in hours vs weeks or months. In some situations, air freight is a necessity, but if you can wait for a sea freight delivery, the sustainability impacts are enormous. According to MIT, long-haul air freight generates 47x as much greenhouse gas emissions as ocean freight, per ton-mile.
Is air freight your default option? Consider incorporating sea freight where possible to have a big environmental impact.
There are also a lot of considerations when it comes to “last mile” deliveries, either directly to customers, or to retail locations.
Route optimization is a must-have in my opinion. Solutions like these manage your shipments and direct drivers along the most efficient route to minimize the amount of fuel used. Routes will automatically adjust in case of traffic jams, or if an additional stop is added, to minimize time spent on the road.
When it comes to deliveries to customers’ homes, there is a lot of wasted transportation if the customer is not there to receive the package – and even more so if you attempt that same delivery two or three times. By texting the customer while enroute to see if they’re available to receive the package, you can drive that first delivery rate up close to 100% so you don’t have to have those vehicles go back out for delivery.
The other side of the sustainability coin is reverse logistics - you can’t just worry about deliveries; you need to consider how frequently items are returned too. This is a big problem in the fashion industry, where a customer might order multiple sizes of the same item and return the ones that didn’t fit.
In telecommunications, most of our reverse logistics are for collecting devices for repair or refurbishment. This means mitigation strategies that work for other industries, like restocking fees, won’t work here.
Fortunately, much of that transportation burden can be avoided by keeping these devices out of the supply chain altogether. Instead, offer in-store repair services so customers can have simple procedures performed onsite.
Sustainability is an issue of global importance, but there are social considerations that can’t be overlooked.
In developing countries like South Africa, there is a fine balance between investing large sums of money in sustainability initiatives, but not having it come at the expense of the welfare and wellbeing of your workforce.
The argument you’ll hear is this – how do you justify spending thousands on environmental solutions when you could be educating your staff, their children, providing them with bonuses, and the like? In the first world, you hear a lot about carbon offsetting, but this concept does not work in developing countries.
There is truth to this position, but I believe there are many small steps that have a big return, like some I’ve mentioned here. It’s all about starting with actions that are achievable and realistic.
No matter where you do business, sustainability initiatives can’t be overlooked any longer. Are you using any of these strategies? Which green initiatives are you implementing beyond your supply chain?