BlogSupply Chain Sustainability/Circular Economygreen supply chain management

In 2014, Nobel prize winner Desmond Tutu penned an article calling for people of conscience to boycott companies that deal in fossil fuels in order to encourage corporations to begin reducing carbon emissions. You may have noticed that the public has grown increasingly aware of environmental issues and is more willing than ever to boycott a company on the basis of its environmental practices. Clearly, this is a trend that no one in business can ignore.

Conversely, consumers also want to reward companies that reduce their harmful environmental and social impact by purchasing their products over competitors’—even if those products are more expensive. As a result, a business that wants to maintain and grow its customer base must be able to point to environmentally responsible behavior. A critical first step in doing this is adopting the practices of Green Supply Chain Management (GSCM).

Problems With Existing Supply Chain Networks

A supply chain is essentially an equation in which the profits derived from products are weighed against the cost of moving them, and, at first glance, it doesn’t seem to leave much room for environmental considerations. Supply chains involve many coordination challenges because of their multiple supply chain management

  • Storage: Securing, maintaining, and operating a warehouse in which to store goods requires energy, and this energy comes at a cost in money and in carbon. These costs are magnified when the items are perishable food or pharmaceuticals and also require climate control.
  • Handling: Packing products for shipment or storage not only expends carbon-releasing energy, it uses packing materials that are themselves at the end of their own supply chain. For example, commonly used lightweight wood pallets have completed their own manufacturing and supply chain, and disposing of them after one or two uses wastes the energy and carbon required to get the pallets where they need to be.
  • Transportation: Moving products to every stop along the chain—from manufacturing to distribution centers to retail—requires trucking them between each point using an amount of fuel directly tied to the weight of the truckload.

Traditionally, supply chain management practices have focused solely on getting goods to market. Chances to reuse packing and shipping materials were ignored because of the labor required to prepare the materials for reuse and the need for additional transportation to put them back into the supply chain. For a very long time, it was assumed that the benefits of reuse and recycling were outweighed by the money, time, and effort it would take to reclaim the material. This is a false assumption. GSCM isn’t just responsible business, it’s good business and adds value to the products shipped through a sustainable supply chain.

Bringing Green Supply Chain Management to Existing Networks

Appropriately, considering the goal of sparing the environment, GSCM looks to the natural world and its relationships for inspiration in reusing material and packaging. When a living organism reaches the end of its life, it stays in the food chain by providing nutrients for other plants and animals. GSCM takes this same philosophy and applies it to the creation of a sustainable supply chain.

This means warehouses are inspected to ensure they aren’t wasting energy. Efforts are made to reduce fuel consumption, and paper usage is reduced by going digital. Packing materials are set aside and prepped for recycling and “green” packaging is used whenever possible. Shipping platforms like pallets are returned to distribution centers for reuse.

Wood pallets, even reusable wood block platforms, don’t have a long lifespan.

This last step—reusing shipping pallets—can be one of the biggest ways to set a supply chain on the path toward becoming green. Wood pallets, even reusable wood block platforms, don’t have a long lifespan. A supply of wood pallets needs constant replenishment with entirely new pallets or a constant stream of newly cut wood to repair existing ones. Energy is used to transport wood to manufacturing centers and again to transport broken pallets to and from repair centers. Wood pallets beyond repair generally pile up in landfills, and the process of deforestation to replace them begins again.

Eco-Friendly Plastic Pallets Enhance Green Supply Chain Management

The waste and carbon cost of using wood pallets in a supply chain are simply not compatible with GSCM practices. In comparison, plastic pallets have several major advantages over wood pallets when it comes to creating a sustainable supply chain.

  • Recyclable: When they are worn out, plastic pallets are directly recyclable into more plastic pallets. This falls directly in line with the practices of GSCM by replacing the constant harvesting or creation of new material with a loop of plastic recycling that minimizes the depletion of resources and reduces waste.
  • Reduced Weight: Reusable wood pallets weigh in at approximately 75-80 pounds while plastic pallets weight less than 50 pounds. This means a savings of 31 pounds on every load shipped on a plastic pallet and translates to lower fuel costs and carbon emissions. For trucks that weigh out, it also means more product can be transported with every run, further increasing efficiency.
  • Stable Dimensions and Weight: Wood pallets absorb moisture which can increase a platform’s weight and subtly change its dimensions. This, in turn, can increase the fuel expenditures needed to transport product and even harm equipment or shorten the pallets’ lifespan by causing rot or other damage. Plastic pallets maintain their weight and dimensions regardless of their environment.
  • Eliminate Contamination Vectors: Wood can come contaminated with pests right from the mill or pick up pests during their life cycle, providing a way for invasive species to travel from state to state. Non-absorbent plastic pallets provide no refuge for pests and are easily cleaned with a non-toxic sanitizing agent to ensure they are safe for use.

Because they positively impact every link in the supply chain, plastic pallets are the best choice for turning existing supply chains green. Reducing material and fuel use allows companies to lower their carbon footprint and offers customers assurance that they’re getting an environmentally responsible product made by a company that is looking to the future. There are several ways to adopt plastic pallets as a shipping platform, but a plastic pallet pooling program can lower your Total Cost of Business (TCOB) by inspecting, maintaining, and delivering plastic pallets where they are needed.

The iGPS plastic pallet pool offers a lightweight pallet weighing less than 50 pounds that can support a 5,000 pound dynamic load and can be used dozens of times. Find out how our platform can lower your carbon emissions with our greenhouse gas calculator. To get started with Green Supply Chain Management, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.

Image 1: Pexels User Joey Kyber