Benchmark and baseline your data
As our framework notes, knowing what your carbon footprint looks like now, and to what extent the supply chain makes up that footprint, is a crucial first step toward defining your road map. You are then equipped to focus on the decarbonization methods and levers best suited for your business, and to think about the metrics to embed to track that activity.
Rethink how you engage with suppliers
When you’re identifying the levers to pull, think about which players are impacting those levers and engage with them — you may be surprised by how much they have in place already amid greater pressure from stakeholders such as investors and consumers, as well as advances in electrification. Collaboration across the value chain is vital for meeting goals and commitments. Companies should feel empowered to demand data-based targets from their suppliers, rather than merely asking them to reduce emissions. Consider adding different criteria to your scorecards for suppliers and third-party logistics providers with those goals in mind.
Scrutinize the full life cycle of your products
You can make a large impact in reducing emissions through innovation up front during product development — for instance, through product and packaging design centered around greater energy efficiency, recycling and more sustainable materials. In sustainable manufacturing, a view of the whole product cycle is crucial for optimizing manufacturing systems, products and services. And even if you don’t use much energy to manufacture a product, perhaps the end consumer will use it in a way that strains environmental resources, creating Scope 3 (indirect) emissions in your sustainability reporting. Through a full-life-cycle view, you can drive positive change through adapting what raw materials you use, which suppliers you rely on, and when and where manufacturing can take place, with the effects of climate change in mind from the beginning.
Focus on logistics
The traditional way toward a more sustainable supply chain has been through procurement. Now you should also be looking at the fulfillment side — for example, to examine ocean freight, to the distribution centers, to last-mile delivery — for more impact, as decarbonization efforts in transportation are picking up momentum. Thanks to cheaper battery technology, the economics of fleet electrification are making more and more sense, and some automakers are moving away from internal combustion engine vehicles altogether. While perhaps considered a niche product for the affluent and environmentally focused today, electric vehicles are expected to achieve cost parity with internal-combustion engine vehicles in about five to six years in most regions, and government incentives (and regulation) are fueling the transition. Separately, implementing a digital twin — a virtual replica of your full supply chain — provides a way for you to experiment virtually with new logistics routes and warehouse picking/truck loading for greater optimization.
Explore the circular economy
Similarly, your products can be designed to have a second life or else be recycled or repurposed after their original use has finished. In the circular economy, disposing is replaced with collecting and reusing, thereby closing the loop of a product life cycle. Currently, the global economy is only 8.6% circular, yet it has the potential to cut emissions by 39%, according to the Circularity Gap Report 2021. Efforts include adopting programs that use incentives to encourage an end-of-life product to be returned to the original manufacturer or designated ecosystem partner, providing the resources needed for new products. Supply chain designs must account for durability and consistency — for instance, to account for how easily components can be dissembled — to keep them in play longer.
Lauren Rogge, Senior Manager, Climate change and sustainability services, Ernst & Young LLP, also contributed to this article.