Corporate global supply chains continue to become much larger and more complex than ever before. Competition and new markets have enabled companies to outsource materials and manufacturing production to suppliers in developing countries with emerging economies. When properly executed, an ethical, agile global supply chain can help establish and achieve an organization’s sustainability goals, while also delivering significant benefits to organizations in the form of reduced costs, enhanced profitability and increased shareholder value.
Fundamental to achieving an ethical and sustainable supply chain, is the need to establish responsible and transparent procurement policies that take a holistic product view, starting at the ground level with raw material sourcing. When done properly, these benchmarks and measurements take into account the use of water, land, forests, biodiversity, high carbon assets, energy sources, animal welfare, fair wages, education, healthcare, gender equality and much more. At the intersection of the of these critical components lies the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). It is these goals that have emerged as a framework for many organizations sustainability policies.
Established in 2015 by the United Nations, the SDGs are a collection of 17 interlinked goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. Though they are more thematic than corporate centric in nature, they help companies to align sectors with specific actionable considerations that should be reflected in their sustainability policies with broader ethical, societal, and environmental goals. By implementing the SDG framework, organizations can develop and maintain a social license to operate with a clear set of defined targets to achieve.
When considering the implementation of the SDG framework in a supply chain management, there are 6 critical elements that can function as a starting point:
1. Reduce waste by simplifying supply chain processes through small, steady, and consistent improvements. Every change that reduces or repurposes waste, results in incremental sustainable improvement. This can be achieved by adopting more efficient processes and by leveraging emerging technologies. It is important that these improvements be specific and measurable, to take advantage of advanced analytical tools.
2. Ensure ethical sourcing through transparency. Supply chain managers need visibility into how suppliers extract or produce raw materials to ensure they’re following sustainability standards. The more interconnected they become, the more visible they are to those that access them. Credible international certifications like Fairtrade, the Program for Endorsement of Forest Certifications (PEFC), Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and WaterSense are helpful tools to simplify verification of ethical sourcing.
3. Minimize overproduction through efficient supply and demand planning. Misalignment between supply and demand results in too much or too little production of raw materials, manufacturing of goods and distribution of products. This creates rework and waste.
4. Decrease fossil fuel consumption by optimizing routes. Until logistics moves to electric and other more sustainable vehicle options, route optimization is one of the best ways to reduce the environmental impact of transportation and distribution.
5. Fully utilize containers and transportation to consolidate shipments and maximize container space. Predictive forecasting of where and when goods will arrive, allowing for the consolidation of shipments from multiple suppliers to multiple final destinations. This makes the most efficient use of assets (e.g., containers and trailers) and transportation, reducing the total amount of greenhouse gases generated per unit of cargo.
6. Monitor for existing environmental risks. Many supply chains are already impacted by port delays, container shortages, climate change and other environmental factors. Issues such as wildfires, rising sea levels, water scarcity and lower agricultural yields have a profound impact on the efficiency, quality and speed of the supply chain. 
Open and transparent sustainability goals have become mission critical for business. International and multi-level supply chains cause a host of potential social and environmental risk for consumer brands. It’s tools like the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that are helping these organizations establish a measurable “green” roadmap for future success as they leverage sustainability as a true value proposition across their entire supply chain.
Ian Lifshitz is vice president of sustainability and stakeholder relations, the Americas for the Asia Pulp & Paper Group. He is responsible for managing an international team leading the company’s sustainability, media relations and stakeholder engagement programs across Canada, the United States and South America. Ian has more than 25 years of experience developing sustainability, public relations and other stakeholder strategies for international companies, governments and non-profits, including expertise in managing issues and crisis communication strategies for high-profile companies within the pulp and paper, packaging, retail and telco sectors.