As you rethink your supply chain with sustainability as a priority, a big factor in your success will be the technology you use to drive those efforts. By nature, the modern supply chain is complex and multi-tiered, meaning businesses need solutions that are global, scaleable, and encourage connection and collaboration with your partners. How do you make sure suppliers are all on the same page? How do you make it easy for suppliers around the world to stay aligned on goals? Or report their progress in real time? And even before suppliers come into the picture, how can you use data to shape your approach to product design?
Ultimately, the right technology helps you answer each of those questions. Ideally, the right software enables you to use precise data to drive decisions at each step in the process — from design, to manufacturing, to distribution. Ideally, you can achieve all of these goals with a single, streamlined software solution, collecting real-time data from each link in your value chain and using it to inform and prioritize decisions on materials, regulatory concerns, manufacturing processes, and more.
Here, we’ll offer some general keys to embedding sustainability tech into your entire operations.
Ground your design decisions in data.
When it comes to determining the environmental impact your products will have, some of the most impactful decisions are made up front. The materials you choose to use — and how they’re sourced and produced — have a profound impact on what your product’s life cycle will look like in the long run. During the initial design phase for products, precise data can make all the difference, helping you create predictive models and reduce consumption and waste.
Here are a few ways software tools can help embed sustainability into your design process:
- Materials assessment: Use a materials library to inform the design of sustainable products. Look for a comprehensive option that helps you compare and contrast different choices. A bonus? If you’re able to see what others in your industry are using.
- Predictive modeling and comparison: Being able to build a composite score for any given product, taking into account a wide range of factors like material composition and type, amount of materials used, and finished goods processing. Just ensure the data integrity is high, with actual information from global brands and facilities.
- Setting design criteria: By using analytics tools to compare methods and materials, you can identify the areas that are most central to mitigating impact and achieving your goals. What are the absolute musts? How might specific benchmarks — say, for emissions or water use — shape the combination of materials you allow yourself to use?
Prioritize primary data and make it easy to collect.
To drive real improvements, you’ll need to make sure you’re collecting real, accurate data you can rely on, at the source. After you’ve projected and mapped out the design process, your suppliers will be responsible for executing on that strategy. The right technology tools can help make collaboration with suppliers easy, by standardizing and simplifying their data submission processes.,.
- Trusted assessments: The most efficient way to collect data is through third-party verified reporting from suppliers, with assessments designed to capture key sustainability metrics. Look for a standardized framework built for facilities to report on factors like energy use and emissions, water use, wastewater, and waste and chemical management, paired with trusted verification bodies.
- Simple, high-frequency collection: The right software can help you get a granular, real-time view of your facilities’ impact by automating the collection of certain data, like utility bills.
- Tracking improvements: Look for a solution that helps you track data over time, breaking down relative improvements on a per-facility basis based on specific factors and focus areas.
Encourage collaboration through easy integration.
Given the complexity and variation of modern supply chains, the most useful technology tends to also be the most adaptable. Once you’ve collected your primary data, you also need to be able to communicate and make it accessible to other stakeholders, taking into account a range of different platforms, languages, regulatory frameworks and more. Scalability depends on flexibility, and how quickly and painlessly you can move from raw data to effective reporting and ultimately, meaningful action.
- Integrate with multiple platforms: Finding a technology solution that integrates into your enterprise resource planning (ERP), product lifecycle management (PLM), and other business applications will simplify operations and help embed sustainability across the breadth of your business.
- Measure against various industry standards: Along with your broader sustainability goals, you also need quality data to ensure compliance with specific regulations and standards. Look for a solution that can plug in and analyze data through the lens of both voluntary guidelines like the ones set forth by the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, or industry wide standards like Fair Factories Clearinghouse.
- Communication and onboarding: Empower your collaborators by making it easy for them to get synced up with the software they’ll use to report. Ensure your sustainability technology solution offers training in multiple languages and expert live chat support to help bring suppliers into the fold.
- Sharing and transparency: Sustainability efforts go further when goals are shared clearly and information flows freely. Tools like the Open Supply Hub help increase visibility and accountability by gathering and standardizing data from facilities around the world in one place.
As you implement these changes, be sure to spend time listening to your team and iterating as needs evolve. While implementing scalable technology and data solutions should simplify workloads and ease information flow, you’ll want to monitor any bottlenecks or silos that may be coming up. Consider how you’re enabling your team to use these tools, and make sure you document use cases of successes and challenges.
While it takes time, the integration of sustainability throughout a company will be much more impactful than sustainability teams working in a vacuum. The time it takes to educate and train, with the right solution, will yield shared purpose and ease communication streams.