Today’s headlines are filled with disheartening news about climate change, resource depletion, pollution, hunger, access to clean water, and poverty. The world is paying a high price for the traditional “take, make, use, waste” philosophy that failed to consider the long-range social and environmental consequences of mass consumerism.
In response, in 2015 more than 190 countries joined to endorse 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) ― defined by the United Nations ― as part of a worldwide public-private initiative called 2030Vision. Achieving these goals, which include more affordable energy and climate action, will not only enable companies to fulfill their moral and ethical responsibilities, but can help them capture their share of an estimated $12 trillion in annual revenues and cost savings.
Via collaboration, innovation and implementation of new practices, organizations around the word are making fundamental changes in their business models to honor the goals of 2030Vision. Many of these changes center on the supply chain, which lies at the heart of sustainability. Supply chain practices — from procurement to delivery — define a company’s commitment to the environment and society. Every decision along the end-to-end supply chain has a far-reaching positive or negative impact.
Today, organizations are increasingly leveraging advanced technologies to measure these environmental and social impacts, automatically make responsible corrections and optimize operations for sustainability. While companies have long been using advanced supply chain and logistics software to optimize their operations for profitability, customer service and efficiency, today we are seeing the world’s supply chain leaders incorporate sustainability as a key corporate metric. They are using advanced software to reduce waste, maximize the energy efficiency of production, define smarter transportation strategies and minimize resource consumption.
AI and the Sustainable Supply Chain
At the heart of this sustainability revolution is the increasing accessibility and availability of artificial intelligence (AI) for every business. With the rise of digitalization, connectivity and AI, companies have never had so many digital resources to help them identify, track and control their environmental impacts.
By gathering real-time data via the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge technologies — then applying data science and analytics — companies can target sources of waste and inefficiency with confidence and accuracy. Then they can leverage cloud computing and targeted technology solutions to optimize performance and implement sustainable practices. They can capitalize on mobile devices, satellite-guided navigation and complex algorithms to make their end-to-end, network-based operations as efficient as possible.
Perhaps most exciting, organizations can leverage AI and autonomy to create a continuously more sustainable global supply chain that both monitors and self-corrects. In today’s complex business landscape, with its wealth of supply chain nodes and logistics options, making truly sustainable decisions has moved beyond the scope of human cognition. AI-based tools can consider all the complex factors that come into play, gather and analyze relevant data, and make the most sustainable and profitable business decisions. Artificial intelligence is also capable of sensing a disruption across the network, deciding what it means for sustainability, and taking the right corrective action.
By training the supply chain to measure and minimize its negative environmental and social impacts in real time, companies can make sustainability a basic tenet of their operations, every minute of every day.
The Sustainable Supply Chain: Four Keys
While digitalization, connectivity and AI can make supply chains more sustainable and self-correcting, the majority of businesses may be unsure how to achieve this vision. BlueYonder has identified four key ways digital technologies can help transform your supply chain into a sustainability champion:
- Maximize efficiency by focusing on actual customer needs. Digitalization has significantly improved companies’ ability to minimize excess inventory, waste, expedited shipping and other inefficiencies that affect sustainability. Now businesses can monitor changing customer needs and align the end-to-end supply chain with those needs in real time. As forecast downturns or emerging unmet needs are communicated across the entire network, manufacturing and transportation plans can be instantly adjusted — leading to less waste, less excess inventory and a minimal environmental impact. Leveraging advanced tools to design the supply chain for circularity and real-time responsiveness is a central tenet of sustainability.
- Leverage real-time visibility to prevent and resolve disruptions. Any disruption from plan has sustainability consequences. For example, in the event of a materials shortage, alternative supply strategies can be evaluated in light of not only their cost and service implications, but their impact on natural resources. If a delivery truck breaks down, transportation planning software can define a corrective action with a low environmental impact. Adding sustainability to the mix has certainly added complexity to determining the best supply chain response, but today’s software has the mathematical sophistication to manage this business challenge. As advanced technologies gather data and provide decision support, they can consider environmental and social implications, not only profitability and service outcomes.
- Collaborate across stakeholders in multi-tier networks. Today’s supply chains are complex and global in nature, which means sustainable supply chain decisions must take into account key considerations across the end-to-end supply chain. Forming close digital connections internally, as well as with external collaborators, is critical to understanding and minimizing any organization’s overall environmental impact. The social and environmental impact of external stakeholders — including suppliers, customers and trading partners — must also be assessed, including their ethical sourcing and child-free labor policies. Companies can gain visibility into the everyday practices of their suppliers and choose to partner only with organizations aligned with 2030Vision priorities.
- Journey toward a connected, autonomous end-to-end supply chain that makes sustainable decisions automatically. The increasing accessibility of AI means that supply chain self-correction and end-to-end collaboration are within the reach of every business. Not only does autonomy maximize speed and responsiveness in taking corrective actions, but it minimizes the human resources invested in supply chain monitoring and decision-making, at every node in the chain. In addition, autonomous end-to-end supply chains operate with a degree of accuracy that can’t be achieved via human cognition, minimizing waste and maximizing resource utilization at unprecedented levels.
Doing the Right Thing Has Never Been Easier
Many of the world’s supply chains have acquired a less-than-ideal reputation for their environmental impacts. Today, that has changed. Smart, AI-enabled software solutions, connected on a shared platform, can now help transform the global supply chain into a champion for environmental stewardship.
As supply chain software increasingly connects all trading partners and leverages AI to support sustainable decision making across the supply chain, today every business can contribute to the goals of 2030Vision. Armed with connectivity, control, autonomy and a spirit of collaboration, today’s globally complex, end-to-end supply chains can make the right decisions, to become true environmental and social champions.
To learn more read this whitepaper on sustainable supply chains.
ElMarie is an accomplished industry and supply chain leader with extensive experience in supply chain orchestration, contract logistics/3PL and 4PL. Prior to Blue Yonder, Elmarie was the Director of Supply Chain Excellence at Johnson Controls and held many leadership roles at DSV/UTi Integrated Logistics, and Barloworld Logistics. She has extensive experience working across multiple regions with Pharmaceutical, Automotive and Retail clients, supporting Manufacturers to define their Go to Market Strategies and advising both public and private sector how to secure product in market. Given her unique experience, she is well positioned to provide go-to market and thought leadership. She is focused on the 3PL, Distribution and Pharmaceutical / Life Sciences segments with a keen interest in Luminate Control Tower and the value this will unlock in Supply Chain Orchestration.