Creating SUSTAINable supply chains

Date posted: January 31, 2020

In a bid to reduce the environmental impact of global logistics, researchers at Loughborough University are working with organisations to develop environmentally sustainable, cost-effective and resilient supply chains.

As consumers, we are increasingly aware of the environmental and social impacts of our purchases, and pressure is growing on manufacturers and logistics companies to fight climate change.

As well as cost-effective and just-in-time delivery, organisations must now address the ecological and human costs of both their products and their distribution.

With so many links in the supply chain, establishing these costs can be challenging. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that supply chain waste must be reduced, and greater end-to-end transparency achieved.

Improved decision-making

SUSTAIN – a data-driven and user-friendly toolkit developed at Loughborough – supports complex decision making and is already improving the way logistics and supply chain managers worldwide are measuring, assessing and developing their operational practices and performance.

It allows manufacturing and logistics companies to assess their sustainability performance based on multi-dimensional KPIs, identify areas for improvement, benchmark their performance within the sector, and use the lowest cost interventions and best practices.

Pilot trials with several companies in India and the UK – including Safexpress group, Fluiconnecto, JSA Logistics and members of East Midlands Chamber of Commerce – demonstrated SUSTAIN’s effectiveness in delivering financial savings, increasing resource efficiency, reducing environmental impacts and improving competitiveness.

The evolution of SUSTAIN

SUSTAIN has evolved over several years – the product of collaborations with academic partners and industrial stakeholders worldwide, supported by international funding.

NEX-GIFT (Next Generation Sustainable Freight Transportation, 2014-16) – an international project involving collaborators from India, the UK and USA and as well as Australia, China, France and the Netherlands – developed a deeper understanding of the sustainable challenges faced by the logistics sector, and began to transform logistics practices.

REINVESTing in the future

Loughborough-led project REINVEST – funded by the EU– brought together partners from Greece, India, Italy and the UK. The multidisciplinary research team explored ways to improve environmental sustainability and operational efficiency and influenced regional policy in the logistics sector through engagement with East Midland Chambers, and Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership.

A recent project funded by British Council is also looking at the resilience of the food security system to identify, model and manage current obstacles. The research is providing a better understanding of the severity of existing barriers and their associated risks.

Managing water and waste

Funded by EPSRC-DTP, current Loughborough-led research in collaboration with the Carbon Trust is examining how businesses engage with water resource accounting tools – and why some do not. This will underpin the development of a water resource efficiency methodology for assessing water foot-printing and mitigating water risk in the supply chain.

Another strand of Loughborough’s work is exploring how some business models can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change. By developing and applying innovative circular economy business models – that capture, create and deliver equitable value for all stakeholders – our business practices can become less harmful and more climate-resilient.

Sharing good practice

The UK Forum for Supply Chain Sustainability – co-founded by Loughborough and the Carbon Trust in 2016 – facilitates the sharing of knowledge and best practice, mutual learning and networking across industry and academia. To date, more than 200 UK organisations have engaged with the Forum to enhance the sustainability of their supply chains.


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