Climate Change is a Waste Management Problem. Sustainable Supply Chains Can Help.

Many consumers have no idea how purchase decisions impact the environment. In the words of James Thurber, celebrated journalist for the New Yorker magazine, “Man has gone long enough, or even too long, without being man enough to face the simple truth that the trouble with man is man”. Annually, the world generates 1.3 billion tons of solid waste and this is expected to almost double by 2025 due to a growing middle-class population and a mass-consumption mindset powered by consumerism (Esposito, 2016). In the United States alone, the average person throws away their weight in trash every month, resulting in 600 times one’s body weight or 90,000 pounds of trash at the end of one’s lifetime (Environmental Protection Agency, 2019).

The disposal of stuff, a byproduct of a propensity to mass consume, is an expensive routine. United States’ waste disposal costs exceed $100 billion annually and the truth is half of the garbage Americans throw away could be recycled, the equivalent of filling a football stadium from top to bottom daily (Environmental Protection Agency, 2019). The physical problems underlying climate change are tied to dumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air, raising concentrations in the atmosphere and the want-waste mindset of consumerism. So, climate change is a waste management problem.

Consumerism arguably plays the most significant role in climate change. If we change consumption habits, this would have a drastic effect on our environmental footprint and create sustainable supply chains. 

Consumerism results in 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use(Ivanova, 2015). Supply Chains act as a conduit, fueling consumerism by orchestrating the resources, actors, processes, and data involved in moving a product or service from a supplier to a consumer. In fact, leading research via supply chain data shows that between 60 to 80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from daily household consumption, where the highest rates of consumerism had up to 5.5 times the environmental impact as the world average (Ivanova,2015).

There is a growing trend in sustainability among consumers and businesses. We are surrounded by data, but lack ecosystem information, a holistic view of sustainability benefits through consumption of green-products. The reality is many consumers lack the insights and awareness of shared benefits by purchasing sustainable products, visualizing accountability for everyday purchases. Many actors in the supply chain - consumers, manufacturers and retailers - are interested in sustainability when choosing what products to make, sell, and buy. In a survey of 54 of the world’s leading brands, almost all of them reported that consumers show an increased interest in adopting sustainability practices and lifestyles (Nordic Innovation, 2012). Additionally, surveys reveal that consumers have a willingness to purchase low-carbon products to minimize energy use and reduce waste (Jang, 2018).

Driven by this growing market trend and the rising price of raw materials and metals, businesses are now forced to prioritize how to reduce consumer waste and understand financial benefits of protecting the environment (Emerich, 2011). Navigating challenges of resource scarcity, environmental and climate change will be strategic differentiators in business over the coming decade (Allaoui, 2019). This requires manufacturers to increase focus one co-innovation, use fewer resources, and create less waste and pollution across supply chains (Ahi, 2014). This is only a starting point. What if there was a better, more effective way to balance industrial, natural, and human systems in sustainable supply chain?

Starting upstream in key activities is critical. This is beyond network design and recycling. If sustainability is a core strategy for your company and you want to transform supply chain and your trading partners', feel free to reach out. Share a comment with your point of view or reach out.

About The Author

Sheri R. Hinish
Sheri R. Hinish
SupplyChainQueen ® | Executive Advisor and Change Leader | IBM Executive | Passionate about Supply Chain, Sustainability, Innovation, and Inclusive Leadership|

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