Supply Chain Commentary:
5 Ways Shippers Can Go Green

I’ve been in the custom shipping and transport case business for decades. Because my team isn’t limited to working with any one industry segment, we’re able to observe subtle industry fluctuations, trends, and movements—everything from changes in the popularity of certain shipping materials to the types of things being shipped most often.

Lately we’ve noticed an increasing trend in back-and-forth shipping due to the popularity of subscription services. For example, many hospitals are signing up for medical device rental subscriptions, shipping in large equipment, such as full-size MRI machines, on an as-needed basis.

This back-and-forth trend is one among many industry changes resulting in more environmental waste. Fortunately, there’s good news. Alongside increased shipping demand is a growing body of knowledge on ways to limit its environmental impact. And there are many simple, everyday steps we can take to make a difference in our own businesses. Below are five tips we’ve used ourselves or observed among our logistics industry customers.

Lean Thinking

Lean thinking is a strong foundation for any other efforts you make toward sustainability. A quick search will reveal just how much there is to learn about the lean approach, but it boils down to a simple idea—do more with less. Approaching all your daily tasks with this in mind will set you on a course toward greener operations. To learn more about lean manufacturing, check out Toyota Motor Company’s page on the topic. They invented the idea, so this page is a great place to start.

Transportation Management Systems (TMS)

TMS software platforms are becoming more user-friendly every day, making them one of the most powerful tools for long-term sustainability. The power of this technology lies in its ability to automate some of the most effective green practices, allowing you to do things like…

  • Optimize terrestrial transport rounds
  • Analyze data for transportation mode and provider efficiency
  • Manage multiple methods, including maritime, motor carrier, rail, and air
  • Track shipping and transport in real time
  • Monitor KPI for specific factors like productivity and costs per mile and weight
  • Optimize shipping load and vehicle route
  • Conduct simulation studies for transport costs and schemes
  • Conduct batch order shipping
  • Generate cost control and KPI metrics
  • Conduct and analyze freight audits

Reusable Cases

A disclaimer is in order. Granted, customizing and manufacturing reusable cases is what I do, but that doesn’t change the fact that this method is a no-brainer when it comes to sustainability. After all, this happens to be one of the big reasons I feel good about what I do! Reusable cases reduce shipping-based environmental waste by lessening demand for case manufacturing resources and by limiting shipping-related product damages.

Direct Thermal Printing

As you know, when it comes to shipping labels, thermal transfer printing has been the gold standard for years. Unfortunately, the transfer ribbon used in the process is made with crude oil products, which is a double whammy on the environment. They’re not only manufactured using non-renewable resources, but the ribbons also release harmful emissions in the printing process. Direct thermal printing is the newer, greener option, as it eliminates the ribbon. Plus, there’s a bonus: Recent label coating advancements have reduced the all-too-familiar “label fading” problem.

Finally, Green Company Culture

I’ve saved the best for last, here. If you want to go greener—in logistics or in any other aspect of your business—the single most important factor to consider is your company culture. That’s because the small, isolated choices your team members make each day have the greatest impact on the overall reduction of waste. If you promote a company culture that values and rewards green choices, over time, your employees will understand that things as small as choosing one material over another or reusing that plastic sheeting they were about to toss, could make a powerful impact on the bottom line and the future of our planet.

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