The pursuit of sustainability is an intentional everyday act
In this guest article, Ann Sung Ruckstuhl, SVP & Chief Marketing Officer at Manhattan Associates, discusses supply chain commerce, sustainability practices, and much more.
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The time has come for consumers, businesses and governments alike to take that incremental next step and practice sustainability as an intentional act every day.
Today, we face an uncomfortable truth that many of the processes and everyday comforts we take for granted are actually fuelling the climate crisis:
- Global greenhouse gas emissions have increased by over 90% since 1970. Without significant action, they are projected to rise and cause further biodiversity loss according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- Global supply chain networks are estimated to be responsible for 5.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions each year, according to The World Economic Forum.
- The global fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 20% of wastewater according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
- Food production and distribution accounts for approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with much of these emissions coming from agricultural practices and the transportation of food products, according to the UN.
These findings make the need for intentional and thoughtful action around the production distribution and consumption of goods of paramount importance. And, it is here where supply chain commerce can be a pivotal change agent to promote positive, intentional sustainability actions and gains.
Supply chain commerce is an emerging market category. At its core, it is about unification and a new way to solve the age-old problem of supply and demand, and moving goods from point A to B.
Crucially, it means re-engineering physical and digital supply chains to connect them and bring them in step with consumer and societal expectations of greater responsibility. And, as consumers passionately embrace new values—from environmental friendliness to social equity, holistic wellness and inclusive diversity—they expect the brands they shop with to stand up and be counted in these stakes too.
People often ask me if I think supply chains alone can solve the climate crisis. Honestly, I don’t think that it is as straightforward as that. Sure, supply chain efficiency can drive green gains, but for a more holistic view of the whole challenge, we need to first look at sustainable consumption, efficiency of production, and (then) supply elements.
First and foremost, sustainability starts with us as consumers, and according to Manhattan’s recent Unified Commerce Benchmark for Specialty Retail, only 20% of shoppers were satisfied with their preferred retailer’s sustainability practices—that leaves a lot of room for improvement!
Here are three simple, actionable steps we (as consumers) can all take to be more intentionally sustainable in the ways we consume and purchase goods:
- More detailed product description pages (PDP) mean as consumers we can be more discerning. Comprehensive PDPs make it easier to choose goods that are sustainably sourced, farmed or fished, and avoid items that contain palm oil, microplastics and other such harmful materials.
- With many retailers now able to provide near real-time inventory visibility, it means as consumers we can make smarter decisions about which stores to visit or which delivery options to choose. This simple action can significantly minimise miles travelled and open up a variety of greener last-mile delivery options, leading to significant reductions in CO2 emissions.
- By allowing longer ‘order modification’ grace windows, retailers have given consumers the technology to modify online orders right up to the point a shipment leaves the warehouse, store or microfulfilment centre. Allowing these last-minute basket edits means fewer split-shipments and (in theory) fewer unnecessary returns, which in turn reduces emissions.
But it’s not just consumers who are recognising and responding to the rising green tide. There is a growing acknowledgement among business leaders that sustainability is a topic they must proactively address if they are to stay in step with the evolving popular zeitgeist—interestingly, 87% of ‘Search & Discovery’ leaders in the Benchmark Index said that they were publishing detailed content on sustainability practices on their websites, highlighting the level of understanding for such information.
Here are three actionable steps retailers across all sectors can do to improve sustainability and profitability margins:
- Space is at a premium in supply chains so design warehouses and distribution centres that maximise it. Unify warehouse, slotting, and labour management to better position inventory, utilise storage space, reduce the number of material movements, optimise order picking flows and right size packaging to avoid the cardinal sin (in sustainability terms) of shipping air.
- Adopt end-to-end transportation management systems (TMS) built with sustainability in mind. Use machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) to generate smart routing that optimises delivery routes and incorporates returns as a part of a wider transportation strategy to avoid unnecessary milage and emissions.
- Enable fulfilment from stores to allow retailers to fulfil orders closest to the consumers whether they place their order online, mobile app or via a call centre. This means shorter travel distances, fuels savings and further reductions in carbon emissions, too; while buy-online-and-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) reduces delivery, packaging and opens up opportunities for additional in-store sales.
Supply chains might not be able to save the planet on their own, but they can certainly deliver incremental gains that, when added up, equate to significant environmental benefits.
Maybe you’re a retailer thinking about reducing plastic usage in your production lines and packaging, or trying to be smarter about transportation planning routes, while offering your customers a greater choice of greener last-mile deliveries options; maybe you’re an individual consciously making choices to eat more seasonably and locally to reduce your carbon footprint.