With economic growth on the horizon, companies must prioritize sustainability

Recent signs that the United States and global economies are regaining some of their former strength undoubtedly have many businesses feeling positive about their prospects for next year.

Yet despite the benefits that companies hope to enjoy from the projected economic recovery, growth inevitably brings change along with it. It's important to note that the current business landscape is quite different now than it was in 2008, when the Great Recession hit. The topics that business leaders are most concerned about have changed, as have the challenges they face. Environmental impact, for example, has become a much more widely discussed topic over the past five years, and as such, sustainable product sourcing has become vital.

Of course, firms have been adjusting to the developments gradually - but as growth occurs at a more rapid pace, so will the changes. It's key, therefore, that firms keep a careful eye on the economic predictions and plan ahead for the new challenges they're likely to encounter.

Investors optimistic about 2014

One of the key indicators that the economy may be on the up-and-up is the positive sentiment that has become more prevalent among major investors. A recent study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that a considerable majority - 71 percent - of respondents in the financial sector believe that the worldwide economy will grow stronger next year.

While that figure still leaves just under a third of investors who remain unsure or less than positive in regard to next year's growth, it represents a dramatic increase in economic optimism when compared with last year's figures. In December 2012, just 40 percent of respondents to the survey said that they expected the economy to strengthen in the coming 12 months.

What's more, the prevalence of positive sentiment reflects a global perspective on the economy. Bank of America Merrill Lynch noted that the investors it surveyed "demonstrated a strong preference for Europe and Japan."

Getting proactive about supply chain sustainability

Investors' sensitivity to globalization reflects the mounting complexity of supply chain management. Increasingly, businesses and their suppliers are connected across international lines. The cost and energy expenditures necessary to move goods and raw materials across the globe are considerable, as are the complications that can arise in logistics.

With so much for companies to take into consideration when managing their supply chains, sustainability won't simply happen by itself - but it's an effort that firms still need to make, as it has a direct relationship with brand image and spend management. Environmental Leader recently pointed out the importance of developing supplier relationships that are centered around eco-friendly practices.

"A brand needs to be the kind of partner itself that it would want to deal with if a supply chain relationship is to endure. Policies such as sharing technology, best practices and being flexible create a culture that breeds innovation and a culture of improvement," the source suggested.

Fostering such partnerships can help provide the support necessary to achieve sustainability.

The benefits of third-party logistics

Many firms are also taking a bit of the pressure off themselves by outsourcing some of their distribution management needs to third-party logistics providers. In a column for Manufacturing.net, Linkex Chief Operating Officer Jamie Wyatt discussed the insights and advantages that such partners can bring to the table in a business environment that increasingly emphasizes green logistics. One of the foundations of relationships between businesses and third-party logistics providers is transparency.

"The increased focus on a green supply chain makes sustainability and visibility into emissions and fuel rates important to every person or company that touches the product," Wyatt wrote.

Third-party logistics may become an increasingly viable and popular option, especially for small to medium-sized businesses who need help planning for sustainability,

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