13 June 2024

Why sustainability matters in the supply chain

| The European |

Sustainable products are very fashionable at the moment, and for good reason. With climate change now responsible for many of the world ills, it is up to governments and businesses to look for environmentally sustainable solutions where possible. However, much of the focus is placed on the end product: what is it made from? Is it recyclable? And is it sustainably sourced? These are all questions levelled at producers and manufacturers when a new product is brought to market. Far less attention is placed on the lifecycle of the product from the warehouse to the consumer or the supply chain. With aircraft, shipping, and road haulage responsible for much of the air pollution, and with plastic contaminating our marine habitats, we must scrutinise more closely how the supply chain affects the environment.

Waste in transit

Packaging is a huge expense for businesses that ship products in large volume. Making sure that the packaging is appropriate for protecting the item but also for protecting the environment is very important to consumers. Notable examples of companies that have come under fire for over packaging include Amazon, as well as many supermarkets who regularly over-package products.

In the UK alone, it is estimated that five million tonnes of plastic is used every year, nearly half of which is packaging. Calls from consumers, as well as the industry, to reduce the amount of packaging are growing and businesses are taking action. But the transportation of these products that are consistently over packaged increases the environmental impact of the supply chain.

That isn’t to say that products do not require packaging. Certain products do require packaging to ensure they don’t spoil in transit. Whether they are pharmaceuticals or food, products need to be stored to ensure they reach their destination intact.

Preventing goods spoiling is another way in which the supply chain can address waste. The main cause of any perishable goods spoiling is exposure to varying temperatures. Researchers have shown that in certain conditions, one single bacterium multiplies every 20 minutes. They have in fact identified the range between 5⁰C and 57⁰C as the danger zone for spoilage; temperatures regularly seen in transit.

Preventing empty air miles through the correct storage of perishable goods is key to improving the sustainability of supply chains of a variety of products. Ensuring that products are transported on time and under the correct conditions is a vital responsibility of logistics companies and something manufacturers need to be aware of when designing transport solutions to improve the sustainability of supply chains.

Optimising sustainability from the start

Optimising sustainability from the outset, even at the product design stage helps to manage emissions and improve the sustainability of the supply chain. This is the very beginning of the supply chain and has a huge impact on the total emissions of products. Additionally, where products are produced and what they are produced from often impacts consumer buying habits.

A great example of this are the recent revelations from the electric vehicle manufacturers that much of the lithium and copper in the batteries is affecting Chile’s Atacama desert and the surrounding ecosystem. Mining the lithium and copper to supply the battery boom and fight climate change might destroy precious Chilean ecosystems. It doesn’t add up. ™壗

Putting more electric cars on the road is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the effects of climate change, reducing the 15.6% of global carbon emissions that come from transportation. But extracting Chile’s lithium means pumping large amounts of water and churning up salty mud known as brine – and that’s having an irreversible impact on the local environment. So is it worth the trade? For many the answer is yes, but for the people and animals that live in the region it may not be. However, the trade doesn’t have to be so stark and companies are building themselves to be both profitable but also sustainable.

Designing products to be entirely sustainable is the key for modern companies. The California-based vegetarian “meat” producer, Impossible Foods Inc. has raised $387.5m in funding to date and has designed their supply chain to be more sustainable. As it requires less land and water than cattle, the production of the “meat” produces fewer emissions than traditional meat production. The company was based on the premise of being good for the environment by also satisfying the growing trend of vegetarianism and veganism.

Having started in 2011, the company was able to see the commercial move towards sustainability and built it in from the start. New companies looking to introduce a new product to market should look to build in sustainability from the product design through to the way the product will be distributed to customers. By modelling the full supply chain and optimising the product’s life cycle to minimise disruption, companies can ensure their supply chain is sustainable.

Reducing emissions

Emissions are a hot-button issue and have been for a number of years now. The emphasis of toxic air and smog in cities and large towns across Europe and the world have been well documented. Turin and London have both recently reported poor air quality and are aiming to reduce access of vehicles to city centres. Air travel has also come under the microscope. When transporting goods it is important that manufacturers consider how these items are transported. Reducing the weight of packaging and the goods themselves all contributes to reducing emissions in the supply chain.

Maximising distribution through weight reduction and general day-to-day activities is a great way for businesses to start optimising the supply chain for sustainability goals. There have been many examples of companies reducing weight to reduce emissions of their freight. One of the most notable is Microsoft who are aiming to reduce package weight by an average of 20% year-on-year. This is being done by a combination of correct sizing and lighter weight materials. Reducing the excess weight of packaging means vehicles use less fuel to transport the goods and therefore lowers carbon emissions across the supply chain.

Working with suppliers to ensure the whole supply chain of a product is more sustainable, from the way packaging is produced to how a company purchases power and where that comes from. In managing suppliers, companies must ensure that inputs from suppliers are of high quality, and the use of water and energy is minimised leading to less pollution, defects and over production. They also should also look at auditing their supplier base and make sure that they are improving the supply chain metrics.

What is SkyCell doing?

SkyCell is a company born with sustainability at its core. A pharmaceutical logistics company, it has been optimised for sustainability whilst maintaining the very highest quality of pharmaceutical containers.

This has been done by producing transport containers that not only control the temperature of the goods, but are also made entirely from recyclable materials. By having sustainability at the heart of the business, the product development, procurement and manufacturing plans are all aligned and the entire supply chain is optimised towards being sustainable.

SkyCell has also considered how its containers can reduce emissions whilst in use. The hybrid containers when tested against industry standards not only reduce the total cost by up to 20% but also reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50%. These reductions have a huge impact on the supply chain’s environmental impact. One of our clients – a leading vaccine manufacturer – has saved over 45 million kilograms of CO2 alone in 2019. This is equivalent to electricity use of 7,225 UK homes for one year.

All of the sustainability measures that SkyCell has introduced do not take away from the effectiveness of the service. In supply chain management it is important that the solutions also solve the problem, and in pharmaceutical logistics this is even more important. Being environmentally sustainable whilst offering efficient solutions is at the crux of what SkyCell is doing and built in to how the business works.

Sustainability plays a part in how businesses operate and the supply chain is a huge part of how a business can tackle emissions and other sustainability issues. By integrating solutions as early as possible in the life cycle of a product, businesses can better design the supply chain to reflect a more sustainable way of working. SkyCell is already doing a lot to align the business and the products with its environmental targets. 2020 represents a watershed moment in the climate emergency and by managing supply chains more sustainably business can do their bit to help reduce humanities effect on the environment.

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