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Turning Earth Day into Every Day in the Supply Chain

As Earth Day turns 51, digital supply chains are placing businesses at the forefront of a sustainable future.


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As Earth Day turns 51, digital supply chains are placing businesses at the forefront of a sustainable future. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, the world's population has doubled, we are emitting 2.4 times more CO2 levels, and sea levels have risen four inches. Corporate sustainability initiatives and efforts to “go green” are trending through every industry. Many are focusing on the supply chain—a leading cause of waste—with numerous enterprises setting ambitious goals to become carbon neutral, or even negative, within the next 10-15 years.

Gísli Herjólfsson, CEO of Controlant on Earth Day.

While the incentive for action is clear, businesses' biggest problem is the sheer scale of the sustainability transformation needed. International, multisite organizations face different priorities based on size and geographic locations, as well as the need to balance different regulatory requirements by region and industry.

Society is faced with increasing challenges, like extreme weather patterns, evolving government regulations, consumer demand, and resiliency issues. As a result, companies will need to work to ensure that their corporate sustainability programs transcend their businesses. If, collectively, they can accomplish this, our planet will be one step closer to a global economy that supports climate action instead of hindering it.

Reducing supply chain waste through visibility technology

Technology holds part of the answer for sustainable and resilient supply chains. Through IoT and cloud-based technology that links value chain activities together—from business to manufacturing, to operations, supply chain logistics, and even sites—pharmaceutical manufacturers, logistics providers, and food & beverage brands are gaining extraordinary visibility into supply chains and asserting accountability over sourcing decisions previously seen as far removed. By harnessing this newfound transparency, they can gain better insights into their operations and logistics to make cost-reducing business decisions.

Increasingly, an enterprise's primary stakeholders—investors, employees, customers, and the communities in which it operates—demand not only that it adheres to ethical and sustainable business practices in line with their deeply held values, but that its suppliers and partners do as well. According to McKinsey, more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions in most consumer goods categories occur in supply chains.

In the pharmaceuticals and life sciences supply chain, approximately $35 billion worth of products are wasted annually due to failures in temperature-controlled logistics. Nearly 30% of food and beverage products are wasted every year. As the population grows and consumer demand increases, we can generally expect to see higher strain on the cold chain.

With each handoff point adding new risks that must be mitigated and supply chains growing in complexity, real-time supply chain visibility technology will become increasingly crucial in the coming years to combat waste and reduce carbon footprints.

When companies take a holistic view across their value chain activities, they gain the insights necessary to make conscientious decisions with the environment in mind. Increasing visibility of operations and supply chain activities through technology improves efficiency and reduces waste.

We have witnessed the benefits of technology-enabled supply chain transparency on a global scale in the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain, where reusable, real-time IoT devices and cloud technology have enabled a 99.99% successful delivery rate of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Technology has connected value chain activities, automated workflows, and delivered mission-critical data to stakeholders when needed while reducing vaccine waste and ensuring product safety and security.

Real-time supply chain visibility and monitoring have made previous, retrospective processes and minimal data logging irrelevant.  We can answer, "What is happening right now?" so parties can act on critical information quickly. Moving forward, supply chain stakeholders can leverage gathered business intelligence and data to predictively answer, "What will happen?” For instance, if a product is shipped using a particular lane or packaging type during a specific time of year, prescriptive analytics can help people understand scenarios that are likely to occur. This data will enable businesses to execute planning in an entirely new way and advance their corporate sustainability goals by preventing waste and the need for replacement products.

The cold chain control tower and future sustainability

Nearly every aspect of our lives is supported in some way by supply chains. We depend on them for our daily needs, and manufacturers rely on them for their revenue streams. As consumer and patient demand increases worldwide over the next several decades, companies will need to work even more collaboratively with logistics transportation partners and vendors to ensure that products, goods, and services can be delivered efficiently, reliably, and sustainably in the years to come.

By tracking progress towards these objectives through the transparency of digital networks, organizations can run their operations in a responsible and mutually reinforcing manner. The 51st anniversary of Earth Day presents a timely reminder that a greener, more sustainable future lies within reach through our decision-making.