The Green Supply Chain: Why reducing your environmental footprint doesn’t mean reducing your bottom line

While the concept of “going green” has long been championed in the consumer sector – the drive towards sustainability has unfortunately taken longer to gain prominence in the local Australian and New Zealand supply chain industries. However, as new practices and technologies emerge across the industry, along with a renewed push from industry bodies, local supply chain professionals are beginning to realise that going green doesn’t have to mean a reduction in their bottom line.

Importantly, as competition and demand grows across the region, local supply chains are under increasing pressure to improve efficiency and reduce costs. In order to not only survive, but thrive in this environment, local businesses understand that they need to operate as efficiently as possible. However, what many businesses are not aware of is that any push to enhance their operations to be leaner, can not only help reduce operating costs to support their bottom line, but also provide an opportunity to make their business greener.

Decreasing carbon emissions by increasing tracking

In order to be more environmentally friendly, GPS is one of the most affordable technologies available to logistics operators, who often have hundreds of trucks on the move at any given time. However, simply using GPS within a delivery vehicle does not allow for the most effective use of this technology. In order to achieve effective “greening” of the supply chain, trucks should transmit their location to a central terminal at the dispatcher level so they can be dynamically routed to avoid traffic jams that allow for a reduction in travel time, costs and carbon emissions.

Measuring the effectiveness of a carbon minimising GPS can vary from extremely straightforward to highly complex. For most logistics operations, a simple look at the amount of kilometres driven and the subsequent reduction of cost and driver time is adequate in measuring a reduction in carbon emissions. Put simply, the less time that your drivers are spending in their trucks, the less time they’re pouring out carbon (and increasing the costs of running the business).

Eliminate unproductive processes with mobile printing

As the concept of a green supply chain becomes wider spread across the region, wireless technologies such as mobile printers will become a focal point of future warehouse fit-outs and critical to on-the-shop-floor operations. Mobile devices can contribute to the efficiency of a warehouse by fitting easily into existing work spaces and processes. For repetitive, high-volume tasks such as applying labels, saving just a few seconds per application can translate into meaningful efficiency gains and can go a long way towards a supply chain becoming lean and green.

Wireless printers give local supply chain organisations a lot of flexibility on where printers can be positioned and by printing at the point of activity workers are much less likely to apply the wrong label to an item or package. Labelling errors can result in high costs associated with customer returns, and over time an ineffective and carbon inefficient supply chain due to higher transport needs.

In the case where a mobile printer isn’t feasible or possible, positioning printers closer to areas where the work actually gets done also eliminates unnecessary trips back and forth from the workstation to the centralised printer. These walks represent an opportunity for accuracy and productivity improvements. It means a reduction in label waste, as workers often print batches of labels ahead of time when the printer is not located close to their work area, only to find that they don’t always print the right label or use all the labels.

Reverse distribution

Heavy use of paper is prevalent in many supply chain operations and costs both the environment and businesses. To combat this, technologies such as RFID are widening beyond merely collecting data to allowing many processes to be automated, reducing the amount of paper used throughout the process.

    

Progressive logistics operators can utilise the process of “reverse distribution” to build on their bottom line and improve their green credentials. The process of reverse distribution is defined as the “collection and transportation of used products, packaging, and/or containers” by Benita M. Beamon in Designing the Green Supply Chain2. Put simply, Australian supply chain operations can benefit greatly from recycling their packaging, when it is appropriate. Forms of transport in logistics operations are often only running at a percentage of their storage capacity, and utilising the spare space to collect goods that can be put back into the supply chains can yield significant benefits.

Both post- and pre-consumer packaging represents a significant cost in the supply chain. By leveraging relationships with suppliers to recycle packaging, supply chain operations can significantly improve their bottom line. Imagine utilising the wasted space in a truck to bring back packaging that can be reused multiple times and the cost savings that can follow. The ability to recycle cardboard boxes, or investing in more substantive hard plastic packaging, provides a green friendly solution to unnecessary wastage at little cost to the operation (as trucks almost always return to base).

Reducing paper, improving accuracy with voice

Technologies such as Voice are being implemented in warehouse picking environments to not only reduce the need for printed pick-lists, but also to improve picking accuracy and reduce mis-picks.

A green supply chain operates as efficiently as possible and with a minimum amount of distribution errors. Having the right product shipped to the right customer at the right time and at the right location will result in fewer returns and re-deliveries – all of which create additional work, distribution costs and add to a supply chain’s carbon emissions.

In a voice-enabled warehouse, workers wear rugged headsets and receive verbal direction on tasks to complete select workflows. Workers speak their responses back to the voice system - which is trained to each user’s individual voice - enabling the system to determine if they are completing the correct task. Voice systems also enforce order accuracy through the use of random check digits. The check digits are placed directly by the required part and must be read when a worker is at the appropriate location. The system won’t allow workers to continue their work unless they read the appropriate digits, resulting in almost 100 per cent accuracy at all times.

A growing recognition of green supply chains

[NThere are a number of technologies which have the ability to “green” the supply chain. Operators who ignore these are not only acting irresponsibly towards the environment, but also their own profit margins. The solutions are often inexpensive, have a good risk-reward ratio and are environmentally aware. The future of the supply chain across Australia lies in sustainable practices that benefit the bottom line. o text in field]

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