Closing the supply chain loop remains a priority for multinationals

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How can a company reduce impacts along the product life cycle, and what value chain strategies can be implemented to make this happen? This vexing question and several others were addressed by a panel convened for the BSR conference in New York last week.

“Closing the Loop: Minimizing Product Life-Cycle Impacts” also featured a discussion of emerging life-cycle assessment standards and who they quantify environmental impacts across the value chain.

“But how can we effectively apply these standards?” asked Paul Holdredge, product stewardship program manager for GE Healthcare.

For answer for his company, he said, was to create a “design for the environment compliance” program as an entry point.

“From there,” he added, “we took a look across other industries for sustainable examples. Herman Miller was doing remarkable things, and we drew from that model, too. Then we went within, and used our own resources.”

For Tom Polton, lead, environmental sustainability for Pfizer, closing the loop began by contacting BSR for a “materiality assessment” tool.

“Product stewardship was the most compelling need for us,” he said. “Then we went to a strong supplier evaluation program.”

Having taken those steps, he added, provided Pfizer with user anecdotes that in turn created a “bench-markable” system.

“Performance with Purpose,” was the goal of PepsiCo International, aid the company’s senior manager for energy and climate change, Robert C. ter Kuile. “Our journey began in 1999 with Frito Lay, and moved up the product chain to Tropicana. We examined everything from that point on, moving beyond just measuring the carbon footprint made by producing these goods.”

He said that new scrutiny was placed on water use and packaging as they began reaching into the supply chain. From there, they developed a “supplier engagement program.”

Joel Tickner, associate professor department of community health and sustainability, University of Massachusetts Lowell, said most U.S. multinationals are responding the EU’s “Reach Directives.”

“It’s a good response, since it comes from private industry rather than government programs,” he said. “And enterprise transforms markets across industry lines. Then we can shift the focus away from the consumer and concentrate on workers in the supply chain.”

And while this BSR session demonstrated how companies have partnered across the value chain, leveraged networks, and reduced impacts by closing the loop on the materials cycle, the overall conclusion may have been summed up by Holdredge: “We are really in a nascent stage.”


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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