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Sustainability in supply chains

Big 5 of Sustainability – Strategies for responsible Supply Chains

Supply Chain Managment

by Editorial Office

The logistics industry faces numerous challenges when it comes to reducing the environmental impact of global goods movements. Companies must continually adapt to reduce their environmental impact while remaining economically viable. Many supply chain managers are therefore increasingly shifting their strategic focus towards the so-called Big 5 of sustainability: procurement, packaging, storage, transportation and returns. In this blog article, we explain how each of these areas can contribute to a more environmentally conscious and responsible approach.

Sustainable procurement for fair trade goods

A sustainable procurement of products or services takes into account environmental as well as ethical and economic aspects. The approach aims to promote responsible action, improve social standards and support a sustainable economy in the long term. Companies can achieve this by working with suppliers who guarantee fair working conditions, are committed to environmentally friendly practices and, for example, reduce water and energy consumption or waste production. Certifications such as ISO 20400, the Fairtrade standard or the FSC seal (Forest Stewardship Council) serve as guidelines for sustainable procurement and identify responsibly produced goods.

Environmentally friendly packaging – less is more

Reducing packaging is a key aspect of sustainable logistics. In order to reduce the use of disposable packaging and plastic, managers should focus on materials that are reusable or can be easily recycled or composted. New approaches such as the use of materials made from renewable raw materials, for example paper, cardboard or bio-based plastics made from plants such as corn starch, are setting new standards in environmental compatibility. Innovative solutions and the adaptation of the packaging size to the actual contents reduce the volume of air, thus increasing transport efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions. Physical labels, in turn, can be reduced through the use of QR codes and NFC tags.

Efficient storage – making optimum use of energy and space

Saving resources and reducing emissions – intelligent warehousing also offers scope to promote sustainable practices in the logistics environment. This can be achieved, for example, by optimizing warehouse layouts, implementing energy-saving lighting and heating systems and using solar systems. Digital warehouse management systems (WMS) allow for the adjustment ofstocks and storage times of goods to actual requirements and reduce them where necessary, resulting in less waste of materials, space and resources. The detailed information about stock and storage locations means that unnecessary transportation and stock movements can be avoided. Last but not least, the use of technologies such as RFID tags or automated material flow systems ensures more efficient warehouse processes.

Low-emission transportation – the path to green logistics

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of environmental impact in the supply chain. Smart transportation management can therefore make a significant contribution to a company’s sustainability efforts. Shorter, optimized routes reduce fuel consumption and emissions, while the consolidation of shipments avoids empty runs. Choosing more environmentally friendly means of transportation also helps to reduce the negative impact on the environment and promote green logistics.

Efficient load and freight management helps to fully utilize the capacity of vehicles and containers, which reduces the number of transports required. In addition, measures such as the monitoring and promotion of environmentally conscious driving behavior – for example through speed limits – and CO2 tracking help to reduce harmful emissions, as does cooperation with suppliers who adhere to sustainability standards and offer ecological transport options.

Sustainable returns to support the circular economy

Returns pose a particular challenge for sustainability, as they require additional transportation and packaging materials and have both an economic and ecological impact. Preventative measures in particular are a key strategy in this context: in order to minimize the impact and reduce the number of returns, companies can offer stricter quality control as well as precise product descriptions and size information. A comprehensive digital visualization of goods and fast, transparent communication with customers also help to reduce incorrect purchases and the discrepancy between customer expectations and product reality. 

However, the management of returns also plays a crucial role in the sustainable return of goods. This includes the efficient reprocessing and reintegration of returned goods into the sales cycle in order to reduce waste and conserve resources. Modern logistics solutions, such as local returns centers that enable rapid processing or cooperation with social institutions and second-hand platforms for products that are no longer as good as new, strengthen the circular economy and promote sustainable corporate management.

Conclusion: Innovative solutions for the Big 5 of sustainability

Sustainability in logistics requires a  strategic rethink and a willingness to change existing processes and adapt them to new parameters. The Big 5 – procurement, packaging, storage, transportation and returns – offer numerous starting points for reducing the ecological footprint and increasing efficiency at the same time. Through innovative solutions in these areas, companies can not only help to protect the environment, but also improve their reputation and strengthen customer trust. The transformation towards sustainable processes is therefore not only a response to the pressing issues of environmental protection. It’s also a strategic step towards successfully positioning the company in a volatile market environment and putting its own competitiveness on a broad footing in the long term.

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