Tag Archive | Supply Chain Sustainability

Exciting Times Are Ahead

The whole world can see it clearly. A wind of change is currently blowing through the air and the past eventful weeks have almost turned it into a storm: The IPCC published its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate; world leaders at the Climate Action Summit in New York demonstrated growing recognition that the pace of climate action must be rapidly accelerated; climate activist Greta Thunberg received the Right Livelihood Award “for inspiring and amplifying political demands for urgent climate action reflecting scientific facts”; several million people across the globe joined the Global Climate Strike; Germany followed other countries by introducing a carbon price; and the European Investment Bank decided to divest from fossil fuel projects. It is becoming increasingly clear that the fossil era, which has long shaped the global power structure, is coming to an end. While late movers are now desperately trying to conserve the obsolete fossil solutions of the 20th century with the help of trade barriers, those states relying on green technologies are gaining significant influence. The task of our discipline is now to adapt our theories, methods and practices to this new reality. Exciting times are ahead!

Mapping the Cobalt Supply Chain

Cobalt has become a key commodity for battery-powered vehicles and other electronic products. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the largest producer of cobalt. The so-called “Copperbelt” in the southeastern part of the country hosts most of the cobalt ore, mainly extracted through large-scale industrial mining but also through artisanal and small-scale mining activities by more than 100,000 miners. The sector faces numerous sustainability challenges within local supply chains, such as child work and other human rights violations. The Federal Institute of Geosciences and Natural Resources from Germany has now published a report, titled Mapping of the Artisanal Copper-Cobalt Mining Sector in the Provinces of Haut-Katanga and Lualaba in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which analyzes the cobalt supply chain in the Congo. The focus of the mapping lay on the beginning of the supply chain, i.e. from the cobalt ore to the first domestic sale of production, which is often overlooked by Western consumers and users.

The Worst Supply Chain in the World?

Is Cargill the worst company in the world? In their new report, titled Cargill: The Worst Company In the World, the environmental protection organization Mighty Earth argue that this is actually the case: “[W]hen it comes to addressing the most important problems facing our world, including the destruction of the natural environment, the pollution of our air and water, the warming of the globe, the displacement of Indigenous peoples, child labor, and global poverty, Cargill is not only consistently in last place, but is driving these problems at a scale that dwarfs their closest competitors.” Mighty Earth highlight several problems in Cargill’s supply chains, for example: “It took Cargill months […] to address relatively simple issues in their palm oil supply chain that other companies had dealt with long ago.” and: “Cargill still does not have a comprehensive approach to prevent and address the growing intimidation and violence of human rights defenders that is widely prevalent in its supply chains for palm and other commodities.”

Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through SCM Research

The Academy of Management Journal’s previous editorial team defined its term with a thematic emphasis on “grand challenges”, and called for research through editorials on a wide array of topics that explored global problems including climate change, aging societies, natural resources, societal resilience, digital workforce, digital money, and gender inequality among others, as well as methodological approaches with which to tackle them. They defined a grand challenge as “specific critical barrier(s) that, if removed, would help solve an important societal problem with a high likelihood of global impact through widespread implementation”. Certainly the most widely adopted grand challenges are the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Another example, not mentioned by the editors, are the planetary boundaries identified by Steffen et al. (2015). Following their emphasis, what could our discipline do to better understand and tackle societal grand challenges and maybe also in a more systematic way? Do we need to renovate our thematic and methodological portfolios? Some of these AMJ editorials can certainly be an inspiration for SCM research.

George, G., Howard-Grenville, J., Joshi, A., & Tihanyi, L. (2016). Understanding and Tackling Societal Grand Challenges through Management Research. Academy of Management Journal, 59 (6), 1880-1895. https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2016.4007

The Supply Chain of Tomorrow

It is time for a new video! Future Insights Network’s CEO and Co-Founder, Maria P. Villablanca, recently talked to me about the supply chain of tomorrow. Enjoy watching the video…

What’s a Smartphone Made Of?

In this TED-Ed video, Kim Preshoff investigates the smartphone production: “As of 2018, there are around 2.5 billion smartphone users in the world. If we broke open all the newest phones and split them into their component parts, that would produce around 85,000 kg of gold, 875,000 of silver, and 40,000,000 of copper.” I really like the video, as it takes a supply chain perspective, and I can imagine to use it in my future SCM courses.

Balancing Efficiency and Resilience in Multimodal Supply Chains

In his new report, titled Balancing Efficiency and Resilience in Multimodal Supply Chains, McKinnon (2018) writes: “Over the past twenty years, supply chain resilience has become a hot topic in industrial, government and academic circles – for good reason. Business surveys and a mass of anecdotal evidence have revealed that supply chains have become more vulnerable to disruptions and the consequences of these disruptions become more severe. […] Despite this attention and research efforts, many companies are still at an early stage in the development and implementation of supply chain risk management strategies.” The author examines “how efficiency and resilience can be balanced in the management of multi-modal supply chains”. The author further “investigates the trade-off between supply chain resilience and efficiency, the approaches to sustainability in supply chain management, innovation and technological development, collaboration and alliances and risk mitigation”. The report summarizes findings from a Roundtable of the International Transport Forum held in April 2018. A call for papers deals with supply chain resilience.

McKinnon, A. (2018). Balancing Efficiency and Resilience in Multimodal Supply Chains. International Transport Forum Discussion Papers, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Assessing Tobacco’s Global Environmental Footprint

“Cigarette production and consumption have seen dramatic growth in recent decades and although the health effects of smoking are widely recognized, its impacts on the environment are largely overlooked”, the authors of a new World Health Organization report argue, which is titled Cigarette Smoking: An Assessment of Tobacco’s Global Environmental Footprint Across Its Entire Supply Chain (pdf). The report explicitly takes a supply chain perspective: “From tobacco cultivation and curing, to cigarette manufacturing, distribution, consumption and discarding, every stage in the global tobacco supply chain involves considerable resource inputs, and results in the production of wastes and emissions. Consequently, tobacco puts pressure on the planet’s already stressed natural resources and its fragile ecosystems, threatening the livelihoods and future development of communities around the world.” What I learned from the report is that “tobacco’s total environmental footprint is comparable to that of entire countries and its production is often more environmentally damaging than that of essential commodities such as food crops”.

Land Use in Food Supply Chains

New research published in Science (Poore & Nemecek, 2018) analyzes land use in food supply chains. An astounding 3.1 billion ha reduction in land use could be possible by excluding animal products from current diets. That is an area equivalent to Australia + China + European Union + United States. The author also shows that animal products use about 83% of the world’s farmland and contribute about 57% of food’s different emissions, despite providing only 18% of our calories. These findings demonstrate that we need to shift from “company thinking” to “supply chain thinking” if we want to see the full picture.Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing food’s landuse by 3.1 billion ha (a 76% reduction) – an area equivalent to Australia, China, the European Union and the United States.

Poore, J. & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts through Producers and Consumers. Science, 360 (6392), 987–992. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aaq0216 (free download)

The Role of Circular Supply Chains in the Circular Economy

The circular economy is gathering momentum: In the future this model could, for example, mean that smartphones will not be sold and consumed anymore, but companies like Apple and Samsung will then keep scarce resources and sell a smartphone service to users instead of a product to consumers. These users will then be required to bring back the phone after a specified amount of time. California Management Review has now published a special issue on the circular economy. Several of the articles of that special issue refer to supply chains and supply chain management; and several of the authors have published in SCM journals before. This indicates that “supply chain thinking” and “circular thinking” are increasingly stimulating each other. I would even go so far to say that the 21st century’s supply chain management has to shift from linear to circular. This also has implications for our research. What we might need to re-think is whether the “chain” in “supply chain management” is still the right expression.