Net-positive supply chains are the next goal in sustainability

by Inside Logistics Online Staff

ATLANTA – Net-positive supply chains do more than reduce a company’s carbon footprint: They restore and regenerate natural resources that the world and business need to thrive long-term.

A new report by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and CHEP explains the “transformative vision” that is meant to improve the environment by improving supply chains worldwide. “A Revolution in the Making: The Quest for Net Positive Supply Chains” explains what the net positive movement is, core strategies, progress made, and what that means for complex, global supply chains.

“A Revolution in the Making” begins with the concept that being less bad is no longer good enough.

“If you are an organization that depends upon natural resources or an organization where social cohesion is critical to the operation of your business, simply minimizing impacts isn’t going to sustain your operation long-term,” said Sally Uren, CEO of Forum for the Future.

“Net positive is about rebuilding those assets you’re totally reliant on as a business.”

As a global non-profit organization, Forum for the Future created the Net Positive Group (NPG) in 2013 to address sustainability challenges and promote progress. Since then, it has come together with BSR and SHINE (Sustainability and Health Initiative for NetPositive Enterprise) to create the Net Positive Project, a global collaboration to create robust resources to define the net-positive concept, and enable more companies to take up a net-positive approach.

CHEP, part of Brambles Limited, promotes global collaboration as part of its contribution to a smarter, more sustainable future. The company is in a position to make an impact: Brambles helps move more goods to more people, in more places, than any other organization on earth.

“CHEP customers use our pallets over and over again, so our business model has always contributed to a more sustainable supply chain, increasing efficiencies while eliminating waste, CO2 and reducing the use of natural resources,” said Juan Jose Freijo, global head of sustainability for Brambles.

“We are always looking for ways to do even more. The net-positive concepts outlined in this report are both reaffirming and encouraging. We continue looking for new ways to apply these principles to global supply chains.”

Those “new ways” may be found in four key areas highlighted in the report: materiality, transparency, systems thinking, and regeneration. John Pflueger, principal environmental strategist at Dell Technologies, says regenerative thinking also relates to the importance of collaboration.

“Our biggest opportunity in the space is to look at how our customers use technology to solve environmental and social problems, and help them do that more efficiently,” said Pflueger.

“That was part of our epiphany back in 2012. If we don’t look at and understand everything that is happening in our value chain, we’re just giving lip service to the issue.”

Dell is one of several global companies cited in the report. Other industry leaders involved in the net-positive movement, and this research study, include Nike, IKEA, Levi Strauss & Co., and the Crown Estate, which manages the monarchy’s property in Great Britain.

Unilever, another global giant making net-positive progress, is highlighted in the report, along with its collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The foundation plays a key role in worldwide moves toward a circular economy, and net positive supply chains. The work, the foundation points out, must be done now.

“There’s a time pressure to all this,” said Joe Murphy, Circular Economy 100 Network (CE100) lead at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. “We’re pushing the limits of planetary boundaries, so success is a necessity.”

The special report is free to download here.