Think about it: The Path to Greening the Supply Chain with Jim and Stan – Civic House Associates Coalition (CHAC), University of Pennsylvania

Sustainability is often split into three sections, environmental, social and economic. To talk of environmental sustainability, one must talk of resource management. How we use our resource and what we do with the resource are vital to a sustainable world. Social sustainability can be broken down into two broad topics. The first is consumption and need and the second is equity. The economic sustainability is currently define as growth. But what if the growth economy becomes a steady state economy.

Government’s vision of greening the supply chain

Government’s role in greening the supply chain or in anything seems like to regulate and implement rules. Most people think that the government should be in charge and be the one that has the authority, but still not be too much in charge. The goal of government in sustainability is more of protect and serve. Government identify a problem, laws and regulations are setup, monitors are put in place to see if the laws are setup properly and do a check to make sure the laws are up-to-date.

There is however, limitation in what government can regulate. Government can only do so much. For example, EPA does not have experts to all the questions out there. Some problems are so specific that experts in the field is needed to properly solve the problem. Since the 60’s, EPA took a role of regulation. But it seems lately that regulatory perspective is no longer valid today. A top-down perspective where government rules through laws is but of compliance. The path to greening the supply chain is to go beyond compliance. Government needs to talk with the industry, with experts to join together and figure out a way to not only help industry save money and increase image but to help the government keep the health and environment safe for the people.

There is a trend in government leading creative solutions. Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama and their respective administration all have creative ideas to help the industry become green. The government moved away from the perspective of dictatorship to more of a leadership.

Industry’s vision of greening the supply chain

Industry are in industry for one thing and one thing only, profit. Because of the strive for profit, industries have gone through series of compromises. There are many externalities both positive and negative with the desire for profit. One example is the fishing industry where overfishing is bringing the industry to a halt in terms of profit. In the past, to increase profit, people would increase the number of fishers. But at some point, the increase of fishermen can no longer sustain a growth in profit.

Industry’s perspective and responsibility is changing. Rules and regulations from the government, public outcrys, media stories are all causes of the change. For example Apple’s manufacturing sites in China and BP’s oil spill have dramatic impacts on how each company think of their responsibilities.

From an industry perspective, a steady profit means that sustainable sourcing is required. Most company’s think of renewable and sustainable as the same thing. But they are different. A renewable plastic may not be sustainable. Sourcing of raw materials is vital as a stable source can mean that the industry can worry about others. To get to this, industry must have their own little government regulation. An examination of full value chain is required in each company. For example Walmart’s demand on their supply chain. What is driving Walmart? Well customer’s demand is the main reason. Because of the negative publicities that Walmart gets, Walmart decided to adjust their company value.

Industry is driven by consumption. Patagonia’s ad on “do you need another jacket?” is a first of its kind from the industry perspective. There is a move toward circular economy. Industry is moving away from a produce, consume, and dispose to a produce, consume, reuse. A tradition economist would yell at the second trend because how would a company make money if they are not selling?

Industry will need to re-evaluate their perspective of sustainable growth and many companies are already doing so. The trend is that sustainable is here to stay. A traditional company’s EH&S office is going to change. Environmental health and safety is no longer just health and safety of that is within the four walls of our company, but also the health and safety of everything that the company associates with including the entire supply chain.

Personal perspective

The trend depends on needs. What is a need? Is it something that can be calculated by an equation? Is a phone a need? How about a toilet? What a need is today may not be one for tomorrow. If I were to design a sustainable good, there may not be a smart phone today. I mean how sustainable is a smart phone? But then if a smart phone is not created, how sustainable will the world be today?


About t5huang

Masters in Environmental Science at UPenn Candidate
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