What does a sustainable supply chain mean? Mike O’Leary from IBM, Carol Kozar from RTI International, and April Nelson from Bloom Energy shared insights from their companies at the UNC Kenan-Flagler Careers in Sustainability Forum.
As a large corporation, IBM had the power to enforce strict requirements with its suppliers, as well as provide resources to help its suppliers adjust, O’Leary said. The company established requirements for suppliers to meet social and environmental objectives in order to do business with IBM.
Bloom Energy’s sustainable supply chain initiatives are focused on reducing waste. The company uses a foam densifier to condense foam used in shipping to sell back to the manufacturer, Nelson said. She noted the challenges faced by smaller companies face in evaluating and enforcing sustainability requirements of suppliers. Small companies have less leverage with their suppliers to induce change, she said, emphasizing the need for across-the-board standards for all suppliers to meet.
At RTI International, the supply chain is about people. The company, which typically provides consulting services, utilizes conference and video calls to reduce the environmental impact of travel whenever possible, Kozar said.
The panelists all noted the need for common, sustainable supply chain requirements — and the need for large businesses with relationships with many suppliers to pave the way for making supplier sustainability expectations the norm.
By Elizabeth Metzler (MBA ’16)