June 2019 | Commentary | Checking In

Conflicted

Tags: Logistics, Supply Chain, Sustainability

Keith Biondo is the publisher of Inbound Logistics magazine.

As a culture, are we really committed to sustainability? Yes and no. Conventional wisdom can be contradictory. For example, some of you are reading this on paper. BAD! Yet studies show that fast-growth carbon capturing recyclable paper is much more sustainable than the gigawatts of energy and massive server farms needed to deliver Inbound Logistics content on your iPhone.

Logistics and supply chain professionals have hands-on experience with contradictory positions such as that every day. Yes, there are urgent calls for a Green New Deal or the world will end in 12 years, but it seems that supply chain impatience drives the dwindling commitment to sustainability.

Consumer demands for instant delivery strain SC operations, counteract sustainability initiatives, and sometimes seem to bend the laws of physics. Is there a connection between increased demand for delivery speed and an increase in energy usage? Bigger footprints? Ya think?

Destruction of density

Logistics and transportation professionals spend entire careers striving to use truckload and rail to maximize shipment density. Besides saving on transport costs, those efforts boost sustainability measurements. Current buyer habits forcing smaller, more frequent shipments strain those efforts. New technology helps to make more frequent shipments more efficient, but technology can only do so much.

Mega distribution centers are now morphing into multi-mini DCs, meaning many more bricks serving inventory. It's true that newer, smaller buildings are built with an eye toward LEED. But are six new DCs more green than one big one when you consider all the factors? It is an open question.

Other sustainability topics are filled with conflict.

Packaging. Some packaging materials are greener, but smaller shipments mean more of it.

Electric vehicles. Turns out, studies show they are not that eco-friendly.

Infrastructure. We've been reporting on infrastructure's impact on efficiency for decades. For example, 1.2 billion hours of truck productivity are lost each year; the equivalent of nearly half a million drivers sidelined annually. The carbon impact is not good. Green energy goals? FAIL.

Ethos. Both businesses and consumers demand products and fulfillment operations that are often at odds with their sustainable pronouncements. The disconnect is striking.

So where's the good news in all of this? It's the strides that you make at your company to chip away at less-than-sustainable operations—a green grassroots effort to swim against the cultural "need it now" tide.






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