As technology advances have taken supply chain management from art to science, organizations can now analyze, tweak, measure and optimize operational processes across inventory and order management, as well as distribution and transportation routing. By leveraging insights generated from automation and data analytics, supply chain leaders are not only gaining greater transparency and visibility for efficiency and throughput improvements, but also to become better stewards of Earth.
That’s because, whether directly or indirectly, many of the latest data and technology innovations are enabling supply chains to find and exploit opportunities to improve sustainable processes. In the thick of the COVID-19-driven e-commerce boom—coupled with rising consumer awareness and increasing emphasis on Environmental, Social and Governance (which includes environmental stewardship, as well as ethical, economic and philanthropic obligations)—there’s no better time to start putting those advances to work.
A variety of technologies are being leveraged to support green and ESG initiatives throughout supply chains, including on the road, in facility structures and inside their four walls. Here, a look at some of the solutions supply chains are implementing to help support overarching sustainability goals throughout their operations.
ON THE ROAD: Transportation monitoring solutions enhance sustainability efforts
With the increase in e-commerce fulfillment, transportation has likewise grown. That means more middle- and last-mile vehicles on the roads and throughout communities and a subsequent increase in emissions.
In Southern California, for example, home of the Inland Empire—which counted more than 700 big-box distribution centers within its boundaries in 2020—air pollution from trucks, cars and cargo-handling equipment associated with warehouses has become a major concern. The South Coast Air Quality Management District reports that those vehicles release more smog-forming pollution than any other sector, accounting for more than 12% of nitrogen oxides emitted in the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino, according to a recent Los Angeles Times article.
There has been traction, however, on the transportation side when it comes to increased interest in improving sustainability, according to Suyog Deshpande, head of product marketing and sustainability at Samsara, a cloud-native company that offers data analytics solutions via its Connected Operations Platform to provide organizations with increased visibility into their mission-critical data.
“The transportation industry is ripe for opportunity, as it makes up 29% of greenhouse gas emissions, the largest share of the economic sector,” he said.
For organizations looking to make improvements in that sector, not only are data and action-items key, visibility is important too.
“The supply chain industry faces a significant hurdle in realizing its sustainability goals: access to reliable data and actionable insights, in real-time. Without data, there is no insight and, in turn, no measurement and proof of impact,” he said. “Visibility tools help customers improve operational efficiency, increase fuel and energy efficiency and ultimately reduce their impact on the environment.”
Deshpande points to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems factsheet on U.S. Energy. It noted that industrial, transportation and commercial operations (including warehousing and distribution) account for nearly 78% of U.S. energy consumption. “When you consider bringing that down even 1-2%, it can make a big difference,” he said, adding that’s why leveraging real-time data about current operations can help supply chains prioritize the improvements that will further their sustainability goals.