One of the unavoidable realities of the supply chain — whether global or at the smallest local level — is that it necessarily produces waste and carries with it some form of carbon footprint. Just about anything that's shipped just about anywhere creates some sort of impact on the environment that may not be significant on its own, but in aggregate is massive. For that reason, companies of all shapes and sizes would be wise to consider the ways they can reduce their impact on the environment going forward — and do so as soon as possible.

Indeed, just eight aspects of the global supply chain account for as much as half of all carbon emissions released into the atmosphere, according to analysis from the World Economic Forum. Of those eight sectors — which include food, fashion and rapidly shipped consumer goods — a relatively small number of large organizations worldwide are responsible for the lion's share of such emissions.

Air freight is a major contributor to global emissions.Air freight is a major contributor to global emissions.

Of course, the idea of getting as much carbon as possible out of the supply chain is far more easily said than done, especially because companies often have no way of identifying or clearly calculating how much carbon gets released as a result of their operations, the report said. The good news is technology now allows companies to affordably invest in low- or no-emissions alternatives to the things they use every day (such as wind or solar power) that can reduce their carbon impact even if they cannot totally visualize how great that impact is.

Setting goals
In recent years, many organizations — both public and private — have set goals to reduce or eliminate their emissions over specific timeframes, such as "zero by 2050," according to Freight Waves. However, even projecting decades into the future, experts say getting to those lofty goals won't be easy. Leaders from the global shipping giant DHL says much of these efforts will likely start with education for employees about how their actions (such as leaving a van running while making a delivery) play into the bigger picture.

Meanwhile, companies are also actively pushing to go more digital all the time, and greatly reduce or eliminate the use of paper in warehouses and elsewhere, the report said. This helps reduce waste in a number of ways, but has a more practical effect of giving supply chain organizations crucial insight into their operations.

A global issue
A lot of freight that's shipped around the world spends at least some time up in the air — literally, according to Green Biz. For that reason, more major companies like Amazon are investing their phenomenal resources into developing technologies that make air travel without carbon-based fuels a technological reality. The idea is that air freight creates an incredible carbon footprint, but is also necessary to today's increasingly on-demand rapid supply chains. Being able to reduce or cut out those emissions would be a huge positive for the planet, and for shipping companies.

Obviously, each business in the supply chain will have to look at its own unique situation to get a real understanding of its climate impact. However, the sooner they do that, the more likely they will be to get their arms around the problem.

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