Screen Suppliers for Green

March 1, 2011
Improve your own logistics processes, then spread your sustainability philosophy to the ends of your supply chain.

My company, Cascades Tissue, has educated itself on the environmental implications of developing, handling and moving manufactured goods through the supply chain. We’ve reduced our transportation fuel consumption and associated emissions by adjusting the volume, distance and mode of shipping.

In 2007, transportation accounted for 28.4 percent of U.S. energy consumption and 33.6 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, according to a study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. So, to lower our own carbon emissions, we focus on customers based within a 500-mile radius of our mills.

While looking inward at more sustainable transportation methods is an excellent start, to play a more significant role in our planet’s preservation it’s critical to look more broadly at the end-to-end supply chain. Many supply chain managers among our customer base have also started focusing on decarbonizing their transportation—and that of their suppliers.

Just as top retailers have become better at keeping tabs on the full environmental lifecycle of their products, logistics and handling operations can be better informed and more judicious on green matters. Starting the process doesn’t need to be complex and can be as simple as asking your producer partners the following questions:

• What do the products we’re storing and moving consist of? How much of it is from recycled or reused material?

When a recycled material, rather than a raw material, is used to make a new product, natural resources and energy are conserved and less waste is created because recycled materials have already been refined and processed once.

With concerns about greening the supply chain beyond your immediate business operation, determining your manufacturing partners’ commitment to using green materials in production is key.

And while product make-up is vital, don’t forget to examine the packaging used for the goods you handle.

• What are the environmental inputs that go into the packaging?

Most manufacturing processes draw heavily on resources like water, air and energy, yet product makers can vary greatly in how they minimize or restore their use.

To get a better sense for the true green direction of your manufacturer partners, ask if they quantify the environmental impacts of their production. If so, are they establishing measureable goals in electricity, emissions, waste and water use? At Cascades, our process of making paper from 100 percent recycled content uses 44 percent less energy, produces 38 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, creates 50 percent less wastewater and 49 percent less solid waste, versus non-recycled fiber.

It’s also good to stay abreast of new clean or efficient technologies, as many manufacturers are improving environmental performance through these innovations.

• How are the products ultimately disposed of?

Beyond just looking into all that goes into the creation of products you’re moving along the supply chain, consider what happens after they’re used. For all the beneficial reasons cited above, it’s worth determining what percentage of supplies you manage can be recycled and reused, and how long it is before the materials reach the waste stream.

Reused goods are widely available to industries, businesses, institutions, and individuals. There are secondhand markets for entire industrial production facilities, ranging from breweries to medical equipment factories.

Determine if your suppliers encourage and support end users by offering take-back programs. Many electronics suppliers and retailers are now doing this to reduce e-waste. Through reverse logistics, you could support take-back programs, simultaneously helping the planet and potentially providing an additional revenue stream.

Look Broadly at Green

Logistics managers have made an art and science out of moving products through the supply chain, coordinating their activities to reduce costs. Traditionally, that “cost” has been seen as monetary. However, more businesses are looking at cost in terms of climate change too. With this broader view of true costs, professionals will improve every link in their supply chain.

Steve Ott is the sustainable business development manager for Cascades Tissue Group’s US Away-From-Home Division. He is responsible for developing and expanding environmental initiatives within the company and communicating those benefits to sustainability-focused partners. He can be reached at [email protected].