Green Supply Chain Practices

There are multiple ways to implement sustainability practices in a supply chain. Choosing which areas to tackle first can seem complicated. But some common practices cross industries and apply to most companies.

Materials

Choose recycled or sustainably produced materials (like wood pallets). This is one of the most basic applications of the reduce-reuse-recycle framework. Every business can choose green materials at some level.

If shipping products, then choose wood pallets. Wood pallets are less expensive and 95% are reused and recycled. Shipping is already very energy-intensive. You can help reduce its impact with your choice of materials.

Purchasing

Companies make procurement choices every day. Take the time to choose suppliers in your industry that are already using green materials and processes. Try to find suppliers that incorporate sustainable practices already.

Purchasing from an environmentally responsible established supplier strengthens their position in the market and provides an incentive for other suppliers to follow the lead.

Remember hidden costs. You may pay more with a green supplier, but do you save in responsible waste disposal and/or recycling of more materials? Audit the product lifecycle and determine where costs can be re-distributed or eliminated.

Transportation

Transportation is a leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. As energy-saving options come on the market, take a closer look at your transportation suppliers. Choose those who are investing in clean-energy options. Just like all other purchasing, balance the cost of choosing greener transportation with the overall benefit to the communities you serve, your reputation, and the stability of your supply chain.

Packaging

Packaging can be one of the largest contributors to product wastefulness. Look at the entire lifespan of your packaging. How much of it ends up in the landfill, and how much of it can be reused or recycled?

Consumers are looking for less packaging. They’re also looking for innovative disposal methods. Can you use compostable packaging? Give your customers an easy choice with clear and visible instructions for environmentally friendly disposal.

First Steps-Greening the Supply Chain

No matter how big the company, the first steps in greening the supply chain is to understand that it is complex endeavor that will require time and resources to be truly effective. A green supply chain is intentional. The strategies come from the top down and involve every part of the chain. Build a plan and tackle each issue comprehensively.

Examine each step, from the acquisition of raw materials to the last mile of delivery. The key is to make incremental changes in daily operations that are part of a larger strategic plan. Identify the weakest points and work to strengthen them.

Talk to suppliers about sustainability practices. Some will have implemented strategies that lend themselves easily to the effort. A company’s vision and plan for sustainability is part of a larger strategic plan and supplier partners that can help by virtue of their own sustainability practices are essential.

A great benefit to investing in the green supply chain is that the effects can be larger than the intended scope of the initial investment. Helping a supplier/partner to improve its sustainability practices can create a stronger, more resilient supply chain overall.

That goodwill becomes a part of your company’s legacy and reflects positively on the reputation in the business community as a good partner.

The goodwill is a small, but essential, step in creating sustainable industries that become the standard.

The pandemic has exposed the fragility of supply chain problems as a worldwide issue. We are also realizing that greening supply chains makes them both more environmentally responsible and more resilient. Taking the first steps in greening the supply chain may seem daunting, but the small steps that a company takes can make a difference.

Every company that invests in sustainable practices, like using recycled wood pallets, is contributing to a greener global business environment. Those contributions will add up collectively to help lower costs and reduce waste.

Examining the company’s environmental footprint might seem troublesome, but seeing it as an opportunity to make positive, eco-friendly changes is good for business.

 

The Value Driven, Green Supply Chain

The whole world is more aware of the supply chain than they have ever been before. Pandemic-induced disruptions brought attention to the complexity of supply chains. Most people didn’t realize the impact of conditions in faraway places on the products they buy.

Climate change brought more attention to the sustainability and environmental impact of supply chains. The combination brought worldwide scrutiny to this historically overlooked essential underpinning of the global economy.

As we face a change in the methodology of supply chain operations and the increasing demand for more sustainable practices, businesses are looking at greening the supply chain. But what exactly does that mean?

Greening the Supply Chain

The phrase, “greening the supply chain”, often refers to practices that reduce the environmental impact of each step in a supply chain. But it can also encompass health and safety, societal impacts, and quality-of-life issues.

The degree to which sustainability programs and practices could be applied in a supply chain were originally thought to be based on the complexity of operations and where astute management could enable a more hands-on approach. However, the reality is that supply chains are a collaborative effort and no one company can lay claim to a singular approach that functions effectively.

The Green Supply Chain

A greener supply chain isn’t only about environmental impact. It’s also about saving resources and money for your business. And it’s about fortifying weak links in the chain to encourage more resilience in the face of external disruption.

Consumers are demanding greater environmental responsibility from corporations. Using sustainable practices at a company headquarters is a beginning step, but suppliers and partners have to be involved and invested in the practice as well. Some industries that work in the supply chain operations are automatically inclined to increase sustainability practices through their business model. The wooden pallet industry is a prime example of an industry that incorporates productive recycling practices that are absolutely in line with sustainability principles.

Many companies fail to realize the financial impact of waste in the supply chain. These costs tend to be hidden compared to upfront savings offered by suppliers. A closer look can reveal numerous processes where cost savings are negated. Disposing of excess packaging, paying for wasted water and energy, and costly shutdowns due to poor conditions can end up costing far more than those initial savings.

Taking the time to audit and eliminate wasteful practices at each step in the supply chain can result in lower costs. More importantly, it can also result in stronger, more resilient processes.

Companies can work directly with suppliers to reduce waste, decrease environmental impact, and improve working conditions. Each of these steps forges stronger relationships between companies and suppliers.

Those relationships allow all parts of the supply chain to work toward the common goal of business having a positive impact on the community. It doesn’t matter if that community is in the United States, Bangladesh, or France. Local impact is global impact.

Complex Supply Chains and Environmental Responsibility

As mentioned previously, a challenge for companies that want to green their supply chain is that they often do not directly control key parts of the chain. Factories and producers in developed countries generally have to abide by environmental regulations.

An effort to work with suppliers to exceed local regulations benefits their workers and their communities. Those suppliers become less fragile and prone to disruption and the supply chain grows stronger.

Those suppliers are also less likely to create environmental damage. Companies that knowingly use suppliers that are harming the environment may find themselves paying for portions of costly cleanup.

This can feel like an impossible task for many businesses. Even multi-national corporations struggle with the complexity of their supply chains. There may be hundreds of steps involved in creating a single product.

Everyone wants to be environmentally responsible, but where do you start? What are some basic green supply chain practices and what are some reasonable first steps?

Wood Pallets: An Eco-Friendly Choice

Sustainability is an ongoing challenge for industry supply chains. Consumers often don’t recognize the enormous complexity of a reliable supply chain. According to the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association, nearly two billion pallets are in use every day in the United States.

Within the industry, there are staunch advocates for both wood pallets and plastic pallets. Each group claims their choice is the most environmentally friendly.

Researchers at Penn State University decided to take an unbiased look at the debate. They found that wooden pallets are more eco-friendly and sustainable than plastic.

Top 3 Eco-Friendly Benefits of Wood Pallets

Renewable Resource

Wood pallets are made using sustainably sourced wood. The timber is often cut for other uses and the by-products are used for pallet construction. Pallet wood does not come from old-growth forests.

The forest products industry has worked hard over the decades to become a model of sustainability. In 2020, the NWPCA and Pallet Foundation put together an Environmental Product Declaration for wood pallets.

Working with the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Products Lab, the UL-certified document is a testament to the positive environmental impact of wood pallet construction. Two new trees are planted for each one harvested, and 1.7 billion trees are planted in the United States every year.

In 2007 there were over twice as many hardwood trees in the U.S. than there were 50 years earlier. Trees are a naturally renewable resource, and responsible management creates more carbon-capturing trees than it harvests.

Plastic pallets are made with petroleum products. The extraction of these non-renewable fossil fuels produces air and water pollution as well as soil contamination. The Penn State study found that plastic pallets create far more aquatic and terrestrial ecotoxicity and contribute much more to global warming than their wooden counterparts.

The simple fact is that wood pallets are made of trees, not oil. They are less harmful to the environment at every step, and they contribute to a more environmentally sustainable supply chain.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The most eco-friendly products are those that can be reused. Wood pallets can be used multiple times for their main purpose and be repurposed repeatedly. Damaged pallets can be repaired or made into other shipping materials.

When a pallet is no longer viable for shipping, the wood becomes everything from furniture and home décor to mulch and biofuel. A simple search for pallet wood on Pinterest reveals hundreds and hundreds of projects that use wooden pallets that have been retired from active use.

Reusing pallet wood for home projects reduces the use of new hardwood timber, reduces the purchase and consumption of materials that are not sustainably sourced, and decreases our reliance on plastic.

Recycling pallet wood into products like mulch and animal bedding saves newly harvested timber for other uses.

Estimates are that about 93% of pallets in the United States are made of wood and that 95% of those pallets are recycled by companies, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.

Wood Pallets are Biodegradable

The recycling of wood pallets has grown tremendously over the past 20 years. That alone made wood pallets increasingly environmentally friendly and extended their useful lives.

But at some point, pallet wood is not going to be useful anymore. When it reaches the end of its lifespan, a wood pallet does the most eco-friendly thing of all: it biodegrades.

Properly treated and disposed of pallet wood decomposes. It adds nutrients to the soil, provides homes for plant and animal life, and leaves nothing behind but the fertile ground for new trees.

The small percentage of pallet wood that ends up being disposed of does exactly what we want our trash to do, it benefits the environment. After being recycled, reused, and repurposed for years, responsibly discarded wooden pallets nourish the environment rather than disrupting ecosystems and clogging our waterways.

Proponents of plastic pallets point to their durability and longevity. And they certainly can be strong and make many trips as pallets. But they’re not sustainably sourced, they’re not easily reused or recycled, and they don’t biodegrade.

Wooden pallets are an integral part of a reliable, environmentally friendly, sustainable supply chain. As consumers become aware of their complicated environmental footprint, they will be looking for companies that use wood pallets in their supply chains.

Business woman montage

Voices-Women in the Pallet Industry

March is Women’s History Month and we at Nature’s Packaging are here for it. All of the blog posts for this month were about women and their impact on forestry, forest products, and the pallet industry. For our final post of this month, we asked women in the pallet community one question:

How have women changed the pallet industry?

 

Su So-Longman – President

Pallet Central Enterprises

When I started Pallet Central Enterprises 17 years ago, it was rare to find women in a leadership role in this industry. I found such statistics exciting since I have always lived to compete and thrive in challenging circumstances.

Women have advanced light years since that beginning. Now, it is not uncommon to see some of the best pallet companies in the US, owned and operated by women. They are also plant managers, purchasing directors, and account managers among other roles. That is a testament to how involved women have become in every aspect of the pallet industry.

Women certainly possess the more traditional leadership skills, but they also bring a depth of understanding, flexibility, and true work ethic to the workplace. This is demonstrated in the loyalty and longevity of employee relationships, as well as the connections with customers and vendors.

I am proud to say that women are 80% of my in-office work family at Pallet Central Enterprises, and my management team consists of 90% women who oversee daily operations, including sales and accounting. Our national sales manager, who is also a woman, is on the board of the NWPCA.

Women of pallet industry are here to stay, and the industry is definitely better for it.


Julie DeRoush – National Director of Supply Chain

TRI-Pac North America

Women have brought a fresh perspective to the pallet industry through forward thinking and personal connection to customers. Women are largely having the day-to-day conversations with the customer base and have played an integral role in identifying and introducing innovative technology and tools that support the internal expediency and “Just-In-Time” service that customers are demanding. We are calculated risk takers and problem solvers that balance the chaos this industry tends to thrive in.


Beatrice Vasquez – President

Oxnard Pallet Company

Some strengths women have is the ability to multi-task effectively, demonstrate patience, show compassion/respect/flexibility with others (especially employees), and maintain good organizational skills. I believe our attention to detail along with all these strengths have placed an important and vital role for us within the pallet industry in helping to surge forward for more growth potential!


Kristin Kopp – VP of Communications and Marketing

48 Forty Solutions

What I have noticed from women in the pallet industry who I have had the pleasure of working with, is that they bring a sense of humility and thoughtfulness to the table. There are a lot of broader and deeper discussions taking place that might not have otherwise. Pushing the why of initiatives and results to discern “how we got here” rather than just focusing on the numbers themselves, is something I enjoy seeing. What I love most about women in this industry is there is a toughness and resilience which I think a predominantly male industry both appreciate and respect. This respect encourages pallet businesses to hire more women, softening the edges of their businesses a bit, and being open to a whole different style of thinking, feeling, discussing and problem-solving.


Carolyn Beach – Chairwoman of the NWPCA Board

Co-Owner Westside Pallets

Women in the industry are much more present.  More women are not only finding careers in the pallet industry and other industries associated with pallets, but they are more involved in the associations such as NWPCA and WPA.  It’s encouraging that it is common to see women in the pallet industry.

 

We close the month of March celebrating Women’s History and their contribution to this industry. We look forward to the continuation of women taking leadership roles in all of the trade associations (NWPCA, WPA, CWPCA) affiliated with the pallet industry.

 

What is Supply Chain Sustainability? – Part 2

Why is Supply Chain Sustainability Important?

The increasing concern about climate change by consumers and businesses alike has pointed to supply chain sustainability as a strategic goal for all participants in the chain. Supply chain operations, from sourcing, to distribution, to end-user, are an energy-intensive process.

Nations, governments, and business leaders have recognized the after-effects of these processes and have called for dramatic improvements in various worldwide climate summits like the Paris Agreement and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. The medium-term goal within these actions is to reduce GHG emissions on a global scale.

Many industries, like fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), logistics, and supply chain; are being scrutinized and called upon to provide plans and goals for sustainability in their operations. The new business leaders of these industries understand that their operations can have significant impact on the environment, which then flows through the social, political, and economic landscapes where they do business.

In example, Coca-Cola, who is a giant in the fast-moving consumer goods industry, utilizes its market reach to promote awareness of sustainability values and engage meaningfully with suppliers across its supply chain respectively. The 2020 Coca-Cola Business & Environmental, Social and Governance Report demonstrates the initiatives it is implementing within packaging, processes, and advocacy to redress its supply chain and communicate company-wide social responsibility and supply chain sustainability. In sustainable packaging, Coca-Cola’s goal is to make 100% of their packaging recyclable globally by 2025 and use at least 50% recycled material in all packaging by 2030.

For industries and companies like this example, it is up to the wooden pallet and packaging industry, as a service provider in their supply chains, to demonstrate the value of our products in achieving our customer’s goals for sustainability. Recycled wooden products do this by presenting sound, proven data that provides factual information for a customer’s sustainability initiatives.

Making a Supply Chain Sustainable with Wood Packaging

The goal of attaining a sustainable supply chain is to incorporate eco-friendly business practices in everyday operations, these include the use of recycled packaging and/or packaging derived from renewable resources. Achievement of a customer’s sustainability goals begins with important pillars that validate their goals and set up their operations for success with minimal disruption to any process:

Identification – companies identify areas of improvement along their supply chain from sourcing to packaging, to warehousing, to transportation. As operations are evaluated. The “low-hanging fruit” will highlight where the quickest positive environmental impacts will happen. This will help them jumpstart their development toward sustainability. As an expert in recycling processes and renewable wood products, you can guide them to quick wins that are identified at a granular level (read: pallet) and quickly coalesce into a significantly positive data point systemwide.

Collection – developing key performance indicators (KPIs) to use as a benchmark to track progress are integral to success. This helps businesses focus on their environmental goals. As an expert in recycling processes and renewable wood products, your input into those KPI’s will be critical. Luckily, all of this data is collected as a regular part of the services provided.

Commitment – service providers (like pallet companies) gain commitment from their customers by incorporating business practices that mirror the sustainability goals of their customers. This can include facility and yard tours that demonstrate real recycling processes in action and set expectations correctly with customers. Customers must understand that your services amplify their effort toward achieving their sustainability goals and contribute to their bottom line.

Connection – customers want to build on their successes in sustainability and engage with suppliers who understand this concept. Collaboration among businesses units within a customer’s business organization is compounded with optimization of their processes that reduces cost, waste, and environmental risks in the business operation. Wood pallets and packaging touches just about every business unit in some way, whether it be data, actual products, or services provided at the dock. Connecting those dots for the customer are crucial.

Evaluation – beyond KPI metrics there will always be the need to review and re-align with customer sustainability goals. These points of communication must be more than numbers in a spreadsheet or nice-looking reports with colorful infographics. An evaluation of service performance that is done regularly, whether quarterly or semi-annually, is integral to the progress of any sustainability initiatives. It will also help you as a service provider to address any concerns with the customer and help you achieve credibility as the invaluable sustainability expert that you really are.

Navigating successfully through these points to help a customer attain supply chain sustainability is complicated. Nonetheless, every wood packaging business in the industry should adopt these pillars to help promote our industry as sustainable, renewable, and recycling pioneers.

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