As we celebrate the 49th Earth Day in history, it is exciting to see how global this day has become. Over one billion people across 192 countries participate, making it the largest world-wide day of civic action.
As sustainability increasingly becomes a globally recognized issues, we’re now seeing consumers use their purchasing power to demand that corporations “clean up their act” and adopt sustainable practices from design to delivery. Data from Nielsen found that 66% of global customers (and an overwhelming 73% of Millennials) are actually willing to pay more for sustainable goods.
As climate change issues continue to dominate political and social conversations, it is important that “sustainability” becomes more than just a corporate buzzword. But, achieving true end-to-end sustainability – the kind that goes beyond corporate jargon and puts the concept into practice every day doesn’t happen overnight.
Protecting our food supply chain
This year, Earth Day Network – the organization that leads the initiative globally – chose “protecting our species” as the theme and key focus. Besides the fact that it is disheartening to see many different types of plants and animals slowly disappear from the planet, it also has a significant impact on our ecosystem and how we source our food.
For example, recently, beekeepers have warned us that the bee population is rapidly declining – reporting an annual hive loss rate of 30%. The impact of this decline means much more than just having less honey available for purchase in our grocery stores. With less bees pollinating our crops, 90% of which depend on pollination to grow, our food supply chain is severely disrupted, making it even more difficult for us to source food. If the trend continues, we can also expect higher prices and a decrease in food supply.
Last year, the core focus was on reducing pollution around the world, in a global effort to eliminate single-use plastics and establish global regulations for the disposal of plastics. As a result, millions of people have been educated about the health and other risks associated with the use and improper disposal of plastics. The exponential growth of plastic pollution in our oceans, water, and wildlife is threatening our planet’s survival – from poisoning and injuring marine life to the ubiquitous presence of plastics leaking into our food to the impact on human hormones that cause major life-threatening diseases.
So, how do we attack the problem at the source? By designing more sustainable products that minimizes the use of plastic packaging and – where required – uses sustainable packaging material, which is where supply chain fits in perfectly to the sustainability puzzle.
The packaging industry, specifically is one of the biggest contributors to supply-related waste – with about 30,000 tons of it rotting in landfills. Cascades, one of the top packaging manufacturers in North America, has taken this initiative on as a personal mission, shifting its processes to address this issue head on. The company produces, converts and markets packaging products that are composed mainly of recycled fibers, further proving the company understands that sustainable business practices, like an efficient supply chain, aren’t just good for the planet, they’re good for business.
Similar to Cascades, other corporations and governments have made pledges to prioritize sustainability. For example, Adidas just announced last week that it had designed a running shoe made of 100% recyclable material andplans to use only recycled plastics for their footwear by 2024. This pledge by one of the world’s most popular shoe companies won’t be simple to execute as it requires entirely new sourcing, design and manufacturing methods.
How can organizations make an impact year round?
While Earth Day is a great catalyst to rethink your carbon footprint, it can’t be the only time people and organizations address sustainability. Here are just a few ways organizations can implement sustainable practices into their manufacturing and supply chain initiatives to help create a healthier planet now and for years to come:
- Create bio-degradable products using sustainable packaging materials – or better yet, avoid packaging altogether if possible.
- Procure materials from organizations that make social good a priority, including companies that implement ethical practices to eliminate child labor, pay fair wages reduce deforestation and the use of pesticides.
- Manufacture with a goal of creating minimal waste and environmental impact to reduce pollution .
- Transport with logistics processes that optimize loads to reduce mileage, emissions and carbon footprint.
- Utilize assets and equipment in an energy-proficient manner, while still protecting the environment and workforce.
While these may be broad goals with daunting challenges, the good news is that companies have strong incentives beyond the moral imperative to move forward. Sustainable supply chain processes, after all, are good not only for the environment but also for worker safety, customer satisfaction and – in many cases – for cost reduction.