Is Your Supply Chain Sustainable? Probably Not

January 5, 2018 • OPERATION, SUSTAINABILITY & ETHICS, Business Process, Supply Chain

By Cory Searcy

A growing number of companies are working to develop sustainable supply chains. A key challenge is to align their supply chain performance with the economic, environmental, and social thresholds that dictate whether it is sustainable or not.  This article discusses what supply chain sustainability really means, why it is difficult to achieve, and what companies can do to advance their progress.


Nearly every day, more companies publicly share their sustainability commitments and progress. As just one example, nearly 10,000 companies around the world are now signatories to the United Nations Global Compact. These companies have explicitly recognised their responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment, and anti-corruption.1  

Many companies now acknowledge that their responsibilities extend into their supply chains. In fact, supply chains often contain a company’s most significant impacts. In 2010, PUMA found that 94% of its total environmental impact was generated within its supply chain.2 This past year alone, Walmart, Mars, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) were just a few of the companies to announce dramatic expansions of their sustainable supply chain initiatives.  

The growing investments in sustainable supply chains are encouraging. However, extending sustainability into supply chains comes with many challenges. Companies must set priorities, accommodate differing local conditions, and align the efforts of a multitude of partners. But first, they must figure out what sustainability means for their supply chain. Only then can they determine if they are doing enough of what truly matters.

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About the Author

Cory Searcy is a Professor of Industrial Engineering and Environmental Applied Science & Management at Ryerson University.  He currently serves as the Associate Dean, Programs in Ryerson’s Yeates School of Graduate Studies.  He is also a section editor for corporate sustainability at the Journal of Business Ethics.


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