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Sustainability beyond the “factory door”

Sustainable business practices are no longer a nice to have, but a vital component of strategy that drives organisational longevity, market share and bottom-line performance. For the most part, responsible organisations have adopted environmentally friendly practices into their everyday operations, but there is a growing realisation that an organisations footprint extends far beyond their operational nucleus. No business exists in isolation but is part of interconnected networks, both up-and-downstream in the value chain. When taking a holistic view of an organisations end-to-end footprint, in most cases own operations account for as little as a third of the entire footprint, and this fact is driving many organisations to turn to their partners, and indeed their supply chains, to truly understand and manage the overall environmental impact of their products and services.

As a leading supply chain organisation, Barloworld Logistics is not only responsible for their own sustainable business practices, but have a marked impact on the environmental footprint of their customers. This dual responsibility means that the organisation has deeply entrenched values and practices relating to its own footprint, and continually strives to develop innovative solutions that mitigate and manage the extended footprint of their clients.

“Logistics by its very nature can be considered a “dirty” industry, and we have a fundamental responsibility to continually seek innovations that lighten our carbon footprint, and by extension those of our clients. Simple things like recycling, rainwater harvesting and energy efficient light bulbs to technologically advanced emissions monitoring in our vehicles are now all standard tactics throughout our business”, says Tyrone Rennie, Solution Development, Marketing and Strategy Executive at supply chain specialist Barloworld Logistics. “The challenge lies in moving beyond the obvious tactics, to scrutinising every step of a customer’s supply chain to create bespoke, creative solutions for each unique value chain. Examples of such range from network modelling to decrease overall kilometres travelled, to opening up circular economy opportunities and implementing performance-based solutions to increase the payload of vehicles. As thought leaders in the industry, we also strive to educate and challenge the industry through our research.”

Rennie goes on to say that as thought leaders within the industry, Barloworld Logistics latest research offers food for thought and insight into the state of local sustainability practices. Now in its 15th year, supplychainforesight is an industry standard in qualitative research and a critical thought leadership piece on business strategy and supply chains in South Africa. The latest edition reviews the opinions of local business leaders regarding the adoption of sustainable business practices within the Supply Chain to garner insight into the psyche of local leaders when it comes to environmental practices.

“This year’s supplychainforesight has highlighted, that for many, environmental policy is still something organisations are grappling with. One way to accelerate such programmes is to engage with supply chain partners that are geared to lightening the overall environmental load of a business”, argues Rennie. “Supplier management and value chain monitoring become far easier when one can view the supply chain holistically, allowing one to identify the causes of environmental impact, and mitigate these at the source instead of reactively cleaning up at the end of a product's lifecycle”.

This year’s research found that for the most part organisations are adopting tactics within their operations, but that not much focus is being placed on activities beyond the proverbial factory doors. This is creating processes heavily weighted in favour of waste management which, in and of itself, is not a long-term solution. Respondents to the research indicated that from a sustainability perspective there is little emphasis placed on the sourcing of raw materials, or research and development and that in terms of supply chain, the carbon emissions of vehicles is still the primary metric used to determine environmental impact.

“A supply chain is far more than the logistical activities required to move a product from point A to B, and thus the environmental footprint of a supply chain is far more than vehicle emissions. This supplychainforesight has highlighted that there is much room for improvement for local supply chains, especially in terms of the greater product value chain”, states Rennie. “While waste management and emissions controls are vital, there is a greater question to be answered – are we creating product streams that environmentally conscious from the very beginning, that strive to minimise consumption of resources, reuse as much as possible and active lighten our collective footprint, or do we still think that someone else will do it?”.