What defines a sustainable supply chain? What resources are companies devoting to sustainability in their supply chains, and are they under pressure to disclose and achieve their goals? How will supply chain sustainability evolve over the next few years?

The MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics (MIT CTL) and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals have teamed up to launch the annual State of Sustainable Supply Chains Report that will answer these questions — and help companies gain a better understanding of the importance of supply chain sustainability to their enterprises, industries, and the planet.

The data collection phase of the report kicked off on October 7th, 2019, with the posting of a 10-minute survey aimed at supply chain professionals across industries, regions, and positions. Practitioners who complete the survey will receive an advance copy of the report once available.

These insights are urgently needed. Although sustainability in its myriad forms generates intense interest across the globe, the role of supply chains in moving the planet towards a sustainable future is unclear.

“There are countless ways in which companies are promoting sustainability in their supply chains, but there is a critical lack of evidence on the collective value of these efforts and which policies and strategies are the most effective,” says Dr. Alexis Bateman, co-author of the report and Director of the MIT Sustainable Supply Chains initiative.

There is no question that supply chains that deliver and return goods across the globe have enormous environmental and social impacts. For most companies, the majority of greenhouse gas emissions is generated in their supply chain. Poor labor conditions, the employment of child workers, and human trafficking are among the social ills that lurk in supply chains. Daily newspaper headlines and various reports call out these growing and often hidden practices, inflicting substantial reputational damage on companies.

Researchers at MIT CTL are investigating how companies are increasing transparency in the supply chain to minimize or even eradicate these illicit practices. This work links with a joint research project between leading manufacturer P&G and the Malaysia Institute for Supply Chain Innovation, a member of the MIT Global SCALE Network, that is enabling greater visibility into the raw material supply chain and helping small-holder palm farmers to improve sustainability.

Moreover, supply chain management is at the center of critical sustainability issues, such as how to reduce the ever-growing mountain of plastic waste that clogs our oceans. MIT CTL is engaged in a research project for a major manufacturer that wants to reconfigure its supply chain to support its goal of recycling more plastic. The project is looking at the opportunities offered by e-commerce to return used packaging and end-of-life products.

As researchers pursue new ways to promote sustainability, many companies are attempting to reduce the carbon impact of their supply chains. An example is Coppel, one of Mexico’s largest retailers. Coppel is rolling out a program to reallocate its last-mile delivery fleet. A pilot project based on MIT CTL research showed that by matching vehicles to different types of delivery routes, the company could improve the fuel efficiency of vehicles by as much as 20% (see our blog post An Alternative Route to a Fuel-Efficient Last Mile for more information on Coppel’s plans).

In combination, projects like these make contributions to sustainability worldwide, but more information is needed on their effectiveness at both company and global levels. For example, which actions and projects deliver the most bang for the buck, and how much are companies investing in supply chains that minimize their environmental impact and support positive social conditions?

The State of Sustainable Supply Chains Report will provide answers to these questions on an annual basis and track changes in sustainability activity.

This information will help stakeholders, including companies, policymakers, and researchers to formulate and execute supply chain sustainability strategies and integrate them into the broader sustainability movement.

“We urge supply chain professionals to complete the survey and shed light on the critical role that the profession plays in securing a sustainable future for our planet,” says Bateman.

The survey is open now and will remain open until November 1st, 2019. The report will be available to respondents and collaborators in early spring 2020 and to the general public by late spring.

For more information on the State of Sustainable Supply Chains Report contact Alexis Bateman at hickmana@mit.edu.