Chain of Thought

Whitney's Anthem Captures Supply Chain Challenge

The title of one of the late Whitney Houston's hits represents the problem many companies have with buying into environmental sustainability: “Didn't We Almost Have It All?”

Having it all in this case means both carbon neutrality and profit plurality. But as I report in the cover story of this month's MH&L, some shippers aren't ready for the level of commitment required to have it all—so they stop short at almost. One shipper I quote in my story comes out and says it plainly:

“I want to date everyone to maximize my enjoyment, not get married. Today, you have to get married in the shipping world [to achieve environmental sustainability.]”

Obviously, he's talking about business partnerships, whether with carriers or third-party logistics service providers. But the kind of collaboration this kind of shipper would prefer, while broad based, is not economically sustainable for all. The only way to make environmental sustainability both broad based and economical is to make is scalable, according to Russ Meller, professor in the department of industrial engineering at the University of Arkansas and director of CELDi, a university-based enterprise in search of such scalability. “And to scale, you need a common language incorporating packaging, business rules, protocols and operating policies.”

You can read more about Dr. Meller's vision of “having it all” in our February issue, but I wanted to also share with you a new report describing how some are having it all in today's markets.

“By leveraging available strategies, including mode matching, container utilization, collaborative distribution, and network redesign, shippers can put us on a more sustainable path where we aren't forced trade off human health for the expeditious flow of goods,” writes Jason Mathers, project manager for the corporate partnerships program of the Environmental Defense Fund. His report, titled “Smart Moves: Creative Supply Chain Strategies Are Cutting Transport Costs and Emissions,” concludes that as these strategies lead to reduced costs, “companies can do well by going good.”

This report shows how a variety of shippers are exercising significant control over their environmental footprint with the judicious selection of whom they partner with, where products are made and stored, how they are designed and packaged, and how much time is allotted for transit.

Case-in-point: D.W. Morgan, a transportation and logistics provider, partnered with a client to change how a key product was transported. The client company imported a large, capital-intensive product to the United States from Asia, while also trying to minimize inventory. Using air freight to transport goods from Asia to the United States was the answer. However, this resulted in high transportation costs and emissions.

To counterbalance those, D. W. Morgan acted as a value-added reseller. Upon picking up product at the manufacturing facility in Asia, D.W. Morgan took title to the shipment, arranging for transportation to its U.S. facilities using ocean container shipping instead of air. The client arranged for delivery, only as needed, from D. W. Morgan's U.S. fulfillment center. By doing so, the client did not take ownership of the product until it was delivered to its door. This way it was able to keep the cost of inventory off its books, while the carbon and cost impacts of transporting goods were significantly reduced.

There are many other examples of partners seeming to “have it all” in this report, so give it a look and see if any of them come close to what you'd like to accomplish. Even "almost" can be a good start.

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