Sustainability needs to be more than just a buzzword

The tech industry is increasingly using sustainability as a shiny object to score easy points with consumers.

They use their magic numbers to tell consumers how much pollution their ‘solution’ is cutting down on – but that isn’t the whole story.

The problem is that many solutions’ focus is placed on the end product. Far less attention is placed on the lifecycle of the product from the warehouse to the consumer and right through the supply chain. 

With this in mind we need to look at the whole picture: with planes and vehicles blamed for a lot of the pollution and plastic contaminating our marine habitats and planet overall, we need to look at not only the product but also the way the supply chain affects the environment too. Sustainability needs to become more than just a buzzword. 

The electric car conundrum 

Businesses need a solid foundation if they are going to be able to carry sustainable practices right through their business, no matter how it changes. The trick is to build sustainability into the foundations. And we know from experience that this is possible: SkyCell has done just that to help reduce our environmental impact every step of the journey. Because of that, we have been independently verified by MyClimate as reducing CO2 emissions by almost half.

To help understand why it is so important to build it from the outset, look at electric cars. They are the perfect example of why the end product doesn’t always offset the environmentally damaging practices throughout the supply chain. Electric vehicles are a better alternative to traditional automobiles; with cleaner emissions and better energy use – no one is disputing that. For years we have been hearing about smog in big cities, and the health effects that has on us. Turin and London both recently reporting poor air quality and are aiming to reduce access of vehicles to city centres. And so having electric vehicles is one step in helping to change that.  

The problem comes in before the electric cars even hit the road. The lithium and copper used in the batteries of electric vehicles is affecting Chile’s Atacama desert and the local ecosystem. This is because the mining practices to extract the lithium and copper have severely damaging effects on the local environment. Does the end justify the means? Depends who you ask: the people living in cities with more breathable air versus those living in Chile where their environment is being destroyed. The point is that we need to look at a company’s sustainability practices as a whole – from inception, right through the supply chain – if we want to make an accurate estimate of sustainability practices. 

Reducing emissions

Therefore, designing products to be entirely sustainable is the key for modern companies. We only need to look at the vegetarian ‘meat’ producer, Impossible Foods Inc. based in California, which designed its supply chain to be more sustainable from start to finish. The company was based on the premise of being good for the environment by also satisfying the growing trend of vegetarianism and veganism. The company has also raised $387.5 million in funding to date – business growth and sustainability wrapped in one. 

But companies also need to think about how they are transporting their goods. And so sustainability plays a major part in how businesses operate and the supply chain is a huge part of how a business can tackle emissions and other sustainability issues. Technology therefore acts as an enabler for sustainability – especially as product loss and waste reduction can also be achieved through better supply chain monitoring. And that is what we at SkyCell aim to do. The hybrid containers when tested against industry standards not only reduce the total cost by up to 20 percent but also reduce CO2 emissions by up to 50 percent. These reductions have a huge impact on the environmental impact of pharma companies who transport medicine around the world by air, road and sea.

Another way of ensuring a more sustainable supply chain is to reduce the weight of packaging and the goods themselves. Optimising distribution through weight reduction and general day-to-day activities is a great way for businesses to start optimising the supply chain for sustainability goals. SkyCell has done this by using recycled material to build its containers on one hand and on the other hand by only choosing light material in order to minimize weight. It is of highest importance to us to not waist any resources that can be reused. 

Best foot forward 

New companies looking to introduce a new product to the market should look to build in sustainability from the product design through to the way the product will be distributed to customers, and on. By modelling the full supply chain and optimising the product’s life cycle to minimise disruption, wastage, and environmental impact, companies can ensure their supply chain is sustainable, exactly as we did within SkyCell.

Sustainability needs to be more than a buzzword to get market clout. It needs to be built into the very fabric of the company. The supply chain is a huge part of how a business can tackle emissions and other sustainability issues, and is integral to how it operates. So businesses need to look at how their supply chains operate and how they can improve them. 

By integrating solutions as early as possible in the life cycle of a product, businesses can better design the supply chain to reflect a more sustainable way of working. 2020 represents a watershed moment in the climate emergency, and by managing supply chains more sustainably business can do their bit to help reduce humanities impact on the environment. 

About the Author

Richard Ettl is CEO and Co-Founder at SkyCell. SkyCell is a leading airfreight container provider with the mission to supply the safest pharma containers worldwide. This is achieved through the unique combination of hardware, software and service, enabling our clients to master logistical challenges and eliminate temperature excursion.

Featured image: ©Jittawit