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Squaring the supply-chain sustainability circle can’t be half-hearted

  • Date: Thu, May 18, 2023

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By Danielle Barron, The Irish Times

We are all finding it difficult to ignore our slowly growing consciousness of food miles,
along with the overall environmental impact of the transport of different products from the
point of manufacture to consumption. Energy and resource-intensive products are falling
out of favour with consumers and increasingly environmentally conscious corporate

can often be mistakenly conflated with the singular issue of greenhouse-gas
emission, explains Prof Heletjé van Staden, assistant professor of management in the
supply-chain management area at UCD College of Business.

“While this is not the case, it is one of the many pressing sustainability issues currently
being faced by industry,” she says. Future goals in terms of emissions are clear, van Staden
asserts: “Industries need to start including minimising emissions in their optimisation
objectives, as opposed to solely minimising costs and meeting customer-service target

But for a company’s supply chain to be sustainable, a few tweaks here and there won’t cut
it, van Staden says. “Such an approach requires forward thinking and proper change
management to get all stakeholders on board, with a whole-system approach including
circular business models, design for the environment and the right to repair, etc.”
Several steps can be taken by companies to improve the sustainability of their supply chains
– “without greenwashing”, she adds.

“In terms of freight emissions, this can mean collaborating with supply-chain partners to
bundle shipments, ensuring they use only full container load trucks and other transport,”
she says, noting that in 2020, an incredible 20 per cent of all trucks on the road in the EU
were empty – indeed, very few are ever filled to capacity. “Such collaboration immediately
translates into saving emissions, since road is well known to be far more carbon intensive
than other common transportation modes, such as water and rail.”

This article was part of The Irish Times Special Report on Supply Chain published on May 18,
2023. Please read the full article here.

Assistant Professor Heletjé van Staden also featured in the following articles:
How technology and science are improving supply chain efficiency
Recent challenges underline the benefits of building resilience

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