The Future of Supply Chains is Sustainable
Creating Supply Chain Sustainability Is a Task for All of Us
A lot of the conversations around evolving our current supply chain systems into sustainable ones focus on a top down approach. The focus is on big corporations and how they can or should reduce emissions and clean up their supply chains. At the end of the day, they control the supply chains, right?
Big corporations work with a lot of resources and hold a lot of power. Their cooperation and commitments to sustainability are certainly important. But what if we not only considered the smaller players, but actually centered them in this work? What if we actively choose to learn from them, infusing their wisdom into our entire systems?
The big companies, whether directly or indirectly, may be causing a lot of pollution, exploitation, and carbon emissions. We absolutely need their commitment to change. Many small farmers and producers are doing the best they can with what they have within the imperfect systems that exist.
As we have expanded our network of producers, we have seen that there are also many small producers already working with solutions on the ground. And we mean this literally. Sometimes the solutions begin in the soil. The more we learn from these farmers and producers, the more we recognize how much we need them and their knowledge.
It may sound cliche, but it’s true that we are all in this together.
In general, supply chain sustainability refers to efforts that consider the environmental and human impact of production as goods travel through the supply chain. Who touches these products on their journey from raw materials to finished products? Who handles storage, delivery, and all the transportation links in between? What processes do they use to minimize environmental harm from factors like energy usage, water consumption and waste production?
And even more importantly, is it possible to not only reduce negative impact, but have a positive impact on the people and communities involved in the supply chains?
Who Profits if We Don’t Have a Livable Planet?
When it comes to sustainability, these concerns should be equal to traditional corporate concerns around revenue and profit. In an ethical sense, we should all be asking, what good is revenue if we don’t have a livable planet? What good is profit if it is only for a handful of powerful players while the majority of the humans on the planet are traped in harmful cycles of poverty? And while these questions haven’t historically been the ones guiding our capitalistic endeavors, they should certainly be the ones informing future designs.
It may be true that many corporate leaders do have long-term sustainability goals for their supply chains, but few have the visibility, technology, and comprehensive processes in place to follow through with them. Often we have the ideas before we have the structure to support them. And often, when many companies began to feel the social and consumer pressure to become more sustainable, they ended up engaging in greenwashing to create the appearance of such sustainability without ever embracing the value of it.
So how can we together create supply chain sustainability?
Transparency Is Critical
A willful lack of transparency has enabled profit-driven companies to exploit laborers and trash the environment. Activist groups have called out multinational companies for using suppliers linked to problems that have ranged from dumping toxins in rivers to committing labor violations. Without full transparency, including regular audits, companies can claim they weren’t aware of the less ethical aspects of their supply chain. Perhaps sometimes they weren’t. Or perhaps this willful ignorance has been an intentional part of the design of supply chains. No more.
To create transparency, big companies must begin by mapping their networks fully from tier-one suppliers down, so they understand the exact composition of their supply chain. Small producers and farmers need to share their stories so consumers with shared values can support their work.
Producers Trust is ready with the space and tools to assist brands of all sizes in creating and maintaining transparency. From our platform, they can share their processes and integrate blockchain technology. Our articles and interviews are here to share their stories, and StoryBird is a perfect tool for mapping product journeys and ensuring traceability.
Traceability Is The Backbone for Sustainable Supply Chains
Even though consumers are demanding it, not all companies have a strong incentive to be transparent and show traceability. Each individual link in a chain has different goals and makes decisions in its own best interests. This is an obstacle to sharing data within the supply chain, as there is a total lack of trust on how this information would be used.
Will traceability turn into a new buzzword?
Not if Producers Trust has a say in the matter. The trick in traceability and transparency is in the data. The goal here is to create better processes for gathering real and accurate information from companies. It is also important that data be verified and/or validated.
Quality Data From the Ground
Consumers want to know how sustainable the brands they support are. They expect companies to be able to show how sustainable their practices are. They want to believe that the claims are truthful. How can we trust them? It has become clear that data is a big factor in supply chain sustainability. The trick is in getting good, quality data, or in ground truthing. Currently, a lot of what we know about sustainability practices within supply chains does not come from accurate or verifiable data.
Many times, data from the source may become lost in layers of obfuscation that happen while a product travels through its supply chain. By the time a business sells a product to the consumer, it may have some nice-sounding certifications and have packaging covered in earth tones and buzzwords. But if we trace it back to the ground, we may realize that it’s not as great as it sounds. It may not be as organic, as sustainable, or as ethical as the packaging or advertising claims.
This is a supply chain sustainability problem that Producers Trust is actively working to solve. With our tools like StoryBird, our collaborations with entities that offer third-party data verification, and our growing network of impact-driven brands, we are promoting ground truthing. We are building a system that honors the true and accurate information that we all–including our planet–deserve.
Change Our Mindsets
For all these logistical and technological steps to function well on the path to sustainability, we must also do the hard work of changing our mindsets around our connection to the earth, to each other, and to our stuff. Many of us want to support good brands, and with the tools and processes that we at Producers Trust are working with, we are making it easier for consumers to find and align with brands that share their values. Beyond this, we can all do some reflecting about our own needs and wants. Why do we buy the things we buy? Why do we waste so much? How susceptible are we to marketing tactics? Why do we feel we need so much more than we actually do? These are some initial questions to guide our reflection.
So much of what we produce goes directly into the landfill or ends up in the oceans. Our linear style of production is based around take-make-waste thinking, that everything can be disposable and then bought new. This is good for profits. It should go without saying that it is bad for the environment. It is also bad for our spirits as it promotes disconnection from our earth and from those who tend the soil and the forests, those who grow our food and make our clothing.
Storytelling Is More Than Just Good Marketing
This is one of the reasons we love sharing the stories of the producers in our network. Not only are they inspriring, but we learn from them. We learn about the places they live and work. We learn about their outlook on life, and we are reminded that we are more similar than we are different. Creating these connections across supply chains isn’t just good for cutting down on carbon emissions, it’s good for building human connections. And the research is in–we need each other!
It’s time to think differently, not just to fix broken systems, but to imagine new ones. Sustainable systems that center small producers and farmers and their knowledge and wisdom. Holistic structures that don’t depend on unfair power dynamics or the exploitation of some for the profits of others. Practices that don’t just sustain the resources of our earth, but regenerate them.
Producers Trust is here for it all. Stay in touch with us as we lead the way in imagining and creating sustainable and regenerative systems.