The Science of Sustainable Supply Chains (Guest Post by Dara O’Rourke, UC Berkeley)

My guest post today comes from Dara O’Rourke. In his recent Science article, The Science of Sustainable Supply Chains, Dara argues that the field of supply chain management needs to significantly improve and integrate sustainability measurement systems and decision-support tools.

The science of sustainability measurement has progressed alongside efforts to advance supply chain traceability, impact assessment, and aggregation of data into sustainability indicators. Advances in life-cycle assessment (LCA) and product “footprinting” are increasingly being deployed in efforts to turn data into decision-support tools for global brands and retailers. However, the speed and dynamism of modern supply chains creates challenges for incorporating sustainability data into sourcing decisions. In addition, the use of divergent methodologies, data sets, and system boundaries have led to confusion across assessment initiatives. In order for these systems to generate accurate sustainability assessments, there is a need for consistent LCA inventory data and common data sets for up-stream activities; consistent life-cycle impact factors; better uncertainty analysis; localization of LCA data sets; modeling of nonlinear responses and ecosystem dynamics; and improved systems for valuing ecosystem services. Better data, decision-support tools, and incentives are needed to move from simply managing supply chains for costs, compliance, and risk reduction, to predicting and preventing unsustainable practices.

Dara O’Rourke is a professor of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the co-founder of GoodGuide, Inc. which recently launched PurView, a supply chain sustainability data platform for retailers and brands. You can follow Dara on twitter @DaraORourke.

O’Rourke, D. (2014). The Science of Sustainable Supply Chains. Science, 344 (6188), 1124-1127 DOI: 10.1126/science.1248526

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About Andreas Wieland

Dr. Andreas Wieland is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain Risk Management at the Department of Operations Management, Copenhagen Business School. His current research interests include resilient and socially responsible supply chains.

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