Not long after companies start the effort to implement green logistics, a critical and challenging realization is likely to set in: The changes that need to be made begin at the first step in the supply chain. Factors working against sustainability - carbon emissions, fuel consumption, use of harmful chemicals - reach far back into the procurement process, and rooting them out of company operations entirely can be extremely difficult.
As such, enterprises that value eco-friendly practices for their benefits in cost reduction and brand image need to look critically at where their raw materials come from and how they are produced.
Mapping the way to sustainability
In a column for GreenBiz, Jessica Wollmuth and Velislava Ivanova, sustainability executives at CH2M HILL, noted that one of the first and most helpful steps in moving closer to green practices is to create a map of the supplier network. Companies can start this process by following a simple, organized strategy.
"An early step is to inventory suppliers, identify the most significant environmental and social challenges they have and prioritize efforts with suppliers," Wollmuth and Ivanova wrote.
Once this step is completed, possible starting-points for a sustainability strategy should become clearer. For example, the CH2M HILL consultants noted that footwear retailer and manufacturer New Balance shed 65 percent of its suppliers and is looking to go green by making sure that the partnerships it maintains are strong.
But some firms may find they need to investigate new suppliers rather than (or perhaps in addition to) getting rid of old ones. Providing potential new partners with a questionnaire regarding their practices can be key in determining whether or not the relationship will fit the company's green initiatives, Wollmuth and Ivanova noted.
"The baseline assessments form the starting point for future programs to improve supply chain sustainability and help assess where the greatest need for improvement exists," they suggested.
Egg farmers work to reduce environmental impact
Luckily, many suppliers are working just as hard as major brands in the effort to ensure procurement's role in sustainability efforts isn't overlooked. In a post for Environmental Leader, American Egg Board Chairman Roger Deffner noted that egg farmers in the United States have been pushing for greener practices for some time now. The industry has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent since 1960. Deffner pointed out that this helps food manufacturers ensure that their products are sustainable.
Green procurement will ultimately require tough decisions to be made - but these are necessary for sustainability to be a real practice.