Sustainability in the International Supply Chain
Thursday, June 1st, 2023
If the food industry took sustainability more seriously, the world would be much healthier. Ourworldindata.org revealed that 26% of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. Consumer and supply chain food waste, specifically, accounts for 6%.
Of course, each of us has an individual responsibility to secure the health of our planet. But we need businesses — better yet, entire industries — to commit to sustainability on a much grander scale.
The same report also stated that agriculture operations account for 70% of freshwater withdrawals, and that dairy milk and beef production are especially harmful to the environment as they require a lot of land, energy, and water use.
These statistics alone make a case for incorporating more sustainable practices in supply chain management in the food industry.
Dairy milk and beef production are especially harmful to the environment as they require a lot of land, energy, and water use.
According to ourworldindata.org, agriculture operations account for 70% of freshwater withdrawals.
Sustainable Supply Chain Management Practices
If we dig into the statistics above, there are some key conclusions we can make about the industry’s impact on our environment:
- Food production processes are emitting some of the most dangerous greenhouse gases globally at an alarming rate.
- We’re unnecessarily emitting even more greenhouse gases by not paying attention to the food we’re wasting in the supply chain.
- Much of our freshwater supply is being depleted by farming.
- Some specific foods require a lot more natural resources to produce than others.
Simply put, turning any of the above around requires a commitment to sustainability from every business in the food industry supply chain internationally. Without this, there will always be cracks in the eco-friendly foundation we’re trying to build.
Of course, getting such a commitment will take a significant amount of time, and what sustainability looks like in each business will differ. However, below are two suggestions for widespread sustainability adoption in the international supply chain.
Two Sustainable Alternatives that Could Enhance Supply Chain Management
Getting everyone in the food industry on the same sustainability page at an international level is more than a challenge. But view it as an ongoing project, and it’s much more achievable. Starting with these sustainable alternatives can benefit supply chain management tremendously.
Food manufacturing is a critical component of the supply chain. These plants transform raw food materials into products ready for sale, consumption, or cooking.
Smart manufacturing can help these companies become more sustainable as well as efficient. It relies on advanced technology to drive operational efficiency.
An excellent example of smart manufacturing technology is the digital tools used to track, measure, and manage sustainability practices and impact.
ESG reporting can provide real-time data on a plant’s water use, carbon emissions, how much energy it consumes, and the waste it produces. IoT sensors and telecommunications tools allow companies to operate remotely, significantly reducing energy consumption. Additionally, impact measurement and management (IMM) software keeps a close eye on environmental impact.
At the very least, food manufacturing plants need to make a conscious effort to go digital to further their sustainability efforts.
IEA reported that “transport has the highest reliance on fossil fuels of any sector and accounted for 37% of CO2 emissions from end-use sectors in 2021.” When we think about this internationally, the amount of fossil fuels used to transport food is incredibly high.
Let’s break this down even further. Food travels by water 58% of the time, by road 30% of the time, by train 9%, and by air less than 1%. Planes emit 50 times as much greenhouse gases as boats. So, it’s great that food transportation doesn’t rely on this method much.
Transporting food by sea doesn’t emit a lot of greenhouse gases either. However, transporting food by truck or another vehicles does.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed passenger cars, medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and light-duty trucks, including sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans, account for over half of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Implementing eco-friendly transportation options in the food industry would help reduce the environmental harm caused by transporting food on the road. Although electric vehicles still produce greenhouse gases, they emit nearly three times less than gas-powered vehicles.
The more companies in the food industry’s supply chain that adopt eco-friendly transportation, the better.
Food travels by water 58% of the time, by road 30% of the time, by train 9%, and by air less than 1%. Planes emit 50 times as much greenhouse gases as boats.
Don’t Overlook the Challenges Associated With These Practices
As good as the above sustainable alternatives can be for the international supply chain, they don’t come without drawbacks.
More Tech Could Lead to Unique Safety Challenges
Smart manufacturing relies heavily on advanced technology. These tools will make the operation more efficient and sustainable when maintained well and used appropriately.
Unfortunately, when they aren’t, workers are prone to common safety hazards. For example, there are more moving machine parts to be aware of. Electrical hazards may arise from new equipment. On top of that, employees that aren’t trained well or lack judgment can make mistakes with technology that end up causing severe harm to themself, their coworkers, or the workflow.
Employee training is critical to avoid safety hazards associated with a more technologically advanced manufacturing plant. Everyone must know how to use each tool appropriately and what to do when a threat presents itself. Maintaining equipment and adequately labelling and organising everything in the workplace are also essential.
Alternative Transportation Options Aren’t Cheap
Eco-friendly transportation is necessary, but it isn’t cheap. In the United States, the average price of an electric vehicle is just under $55,000. A fully-electric semi-truck will probably run you five times that much, if not more.
The moral of the story is that environmentally-friendly vehicles aren’t cheap, and unfortunately, the food industry’s international supply chain will need a lot of them.
The best way to approach eco-friendly transportation is to clearly understand the cost and options out there. Each company also needs to understand its transportation needs and the timeline for realising its business’s entire eco-friendly transportation vision. Then, they’ll need to make room for this vision financially.
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