How greentech is improving supply chain sustainability

Some of the biggest opportunities to reduce a company’s carbon footprint are lurking in its supply chain – a fact that’s spawned a new generation of innovative greentech start-ups
Cargo ships on the sea, seen from above

However hard a business tries to become more sustainable, its efforts will have little impact if these don’t involve its suppliers. Fortunately, several new greentech enterprises are addressing this need, offering hi-tech solutions addressing all aspects of sustainability throughout the supply chain.

To decarbonise a business, it’s vital to fully understand the climate footprint and the associated risks of the company’s entire set of activities

Dan Yates is the co-founder and CEO of Greener, a start-up that’s building a networking platform to help SMEs in the food and drink industry find partners with shared values concerning sustainability. He believes that, while global supply chains are intricately connected, there are still huge disconnects when it comes to sustainability – which is why innovation is key. 

“Innovation is about building sustainability into decision-making from the get-go,” Yates says. “It will always be harder to retroactively fit sustainability into established processes than it is to build thoughtful operations from the start.”

What are some of the greatest challenges?

One of the biggest obstacles, especially when retrofitting, is inertia, he says. Large businesses face inertia of scale, which applies when they try to change well-established working methods. Smaller businesses, which often lack the resources that would enable them to fully embrace sustainability, face investment inertia. For Yates, advanced tech such as big-data analytics has the potential to offer effective solutions. 

“Its ability to explore and process huge amounts of complex data very quickly and translate this into meaningful action will be so relevant,” he says. “Many businesses, particularly SMEs, still depend on word of mouth to find partners – a system that’s existed since the dawn of commerce. Technology has the potential to elevate this exchange. Whatever you think of the outcome, it’s undeniable that social media platforms have reimagined how we connect with each other. We need a revolution on that scale in the way that businesses communicate to engage meaningfully with sustainability.”

Tackling carbon emissions in the supply chain

Reducing an organisation’s CO2 emissions is a sustainability imperative that needs to involve every part of the business. So says Mauro Cozzi, co-founder and CEO of Emitwise, a provider of software that enables firms to monitor their carbon footprints in real time.

“To decarbonise a business, it’s vital to fully understand the climate footprint and the associated risks of the company’s entire set of activities. This knowledge will guide actions to minimise its environmental impacts,” he says. “But the largest and hardest-to-reach area is the supply chain. Its emissions are extremely complex and lie beyond the control of most companies, while the accuracy of reporting can vary widely among suppliers.”

Cozzi continues: “The clearest, most sincere commitment to decarbonisation is the setting of a science-based target. This will guide the extent and speed of emission reductions along the value chain to constrain global warming to 1.5ºC [above its pre-industrial level].”

While the latest technology can handle large swathes of data, it’s only as valuable as the information it can process. This requires enterprises to be completely open about the full extent of their carbon footprints, he says, adding: “The most effective carbon accounting, supercharged by machine learning, can absorb the vast complexity of a global value chain, apply algorithms to analyse data, learn from it and make predictions that create real impact.”

When Spendesk, a provider of expenses-management software, wanted to reduce its carbon footprint, it first asked Emitwise to apply its AI-driven monitoring system to obtain a true picture of the firm’s greenhouse gas emissions. This has given the business a solid starting point on which to base its efforts, taking a lot of guesswork out of the process. 

“We now know which aspects of company life contribute to our carbon footprint, so we can make targeted plans to fix these,” says Spendesk’s inbound marketing manager, Juliette Hervé.

The firm also benefited from having a clear view of its suppliers’ activities, which is something that may not be available to all businesses. “Spendesk is a specialist in tracking corporate spending, so we’re particularly aware of our own activities in this area – whom we pay regularly and for what,” Hervé says.

This facility revealed how much was being spent on small purchases around the organisation. “These add up on the company card, but also on our carbon footprint,” she says. “Without a complete overview of our supplier spending, there’s no way that we could have known this.”

Last-mile innovation

When looking to improve sustainability throughout the value chain, a company needs to ensure that both its internal functions and its external partners can offer a clear view of the emissions within their control, says Ronit Eliav, vice-president of brand and product marketing at Bringg, a green delivery and fulfilment specialist.

“This data needs to be conveyed to the consumer as well as the organisation, so that everyone is equipped to make the right choices about green deliveries,” she argues. 

Here, innovation through technology can support sustainability in many ways. A last-mile delivery and fulfilment solution, for instance, can apply vehicle-load optimisation and fuel-efficient routing to support the delivery of goods on a connected fleet of electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions.

Digitally transforming the supply chain can help companies to integrate their financial and environmental practices all along it, notes Eliav, who adds: “From development through production to delivery, organisations can focus on creating efficiencies for sustainable initiatives such as the reduction of waste and carbon emissions.”