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What Makes A Supply Chain Sustainable?

CSRlive WORLD: Supply chains may operate within legal and responsible guidelines, but still not be sustainable. New guidelines and collaborations are needed that assess supply chain performance in the context of societal and environmental limits, shares Cory Searcy is an associate professor and director of the Environmental Applied Science and Management Program at Ryerson University, Ontario, Canada

Image credit: unilever.co.uk/sustainable-living

A growing number of companies are looking to build sustainability into their supply chains. This is due, in part, to mounting pressures to disclose supply chain information. The growing emphasis on supply chain sustainability is commendable, but there is a problem: Most sustainable supply chain initiatives do not actually address sustainability at all.

To be sustainable, a supply chain must operate within the thresholds imposed by nature and society. Currently, most supply chain initiatives do not make reference to these thresholds. This means we cannot tell if they are sustainable or not.

Strategies for Supply Chain Management

Figure 1 identifies four broad strategies for supply chain management: legal, ethical, responsible, and sustainable. These strategies are hierarchical. A responsible supply chain, for example, must also be legal and ethical. However, a responsible supply chain is not necessarily sustainable.

First, there are supply chains that operate within legal limits and comply with agreed-upon contractual requirements. All partners in these supply chains must follow, for example, established legal, building, and environmental standards. These supply chains focus on doing what is legally required. Legal requirements for supply chains continue to evolve. For example, the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 contains a provision on transparency in supply chains.