As population growth increases, demand for consumer goods increases globally. That increased demand places pressure on businesses’ increasingly complex supply chains, often with a resulting negative environmental impact. Businesses are producing more waste now than ever before.
The average person produces 4.51 pounds of waste every single day, double the amount of waste in the 1960s. And the global supply chain plays a big part in that because so much more material is used to make, package, and ship products to consumers. In fact, 90 percent of the environmental damage caused by consumer packaged goods companies comes from the supply chain — with unsustainable packaging choices the greatest culprit.
By developing a more sustainable supply chain, businesses can:
- Reduce costly waste disposal as well as other ongoing costs
- Tighten efficiency
- Improve brand reputation
- Become an industry leader in environmental practices
Fortunately, many changes in your basic business practices, as well as supply chain processes, can help you reduce waste significantly. And reducing waste helps improve your bottom line.
Here are some ways your business can reduce waste:
1. Audit Your Facilities
When planning steps to reduce waste, one of the best ways to start is by auditing your facilities.
Identify the supply-chain-relevant items that become or create waste. What consumables do you use regularly? Can you replace these items with reusables? How much damaged supply is created? How do you dispose of waste?
Rather than sending all your waste to a landfill, ensure that you have a recycling system in place. Consider setting up a composting program as well. Make sure all personnel understand what they can recycle or compost and where to put it.
By auditing your waste and encouraging recycling and composting, you will reduce the waste you send to the landfill. And by monitoring your business’ waste production and disposal processes, you can more efficiently reduce the amount of waste you produce, increase your efficiency in removing that waste, and minimize your waste’s impact on the environment.
2. Evaluate Packaging
Packaging accounts for almost a third of U.S. municipal solid waste, so evaluating your packaging can make a big impact on reducing your waste.
For example, where can you switch to reusable packaging? If you’re often shipping between warehouses, consider using reusable plastic containers, which can allow you to cut down on a significant amount of cardboard waste.
If that’s not an option, upgrade packaging that wears down after a few shipments to a stronger material that lasts longer. This will reduce your packaging waste as well as cost. While it might be more expensive on a per-item basis, if you get several times more use, you could be saving a significant amount per package.
Also, consider repairing packaging and shipping supplies when possible. Pallets are notorious for breaking but are easily repaired, allowing you to cut down on shipping waste and reduce costs in the process.
3. Go Paperless
According to the EPA, paper is still the most prominent waste item, with paper and cardboard occupying 25 percent of municipal solid waste in the United States.
We’ve talked a bit about reducing cardboard waste, but it’s even easier to go paperless with new technologies. In fact, many of the paper alternatives are more efficient and can cut down on supply chain issues.
Any system that combines digital tracking and paper tracking opens itself up to an infinite number of potential issues. Why? There is no reliable way to transfer written information to digital and vice versa besides manual input by a human being, which is time consuming and may introduce errors.
So, going paperless doesn’t just reduce your footprint, save on paper costs, and reduce storage space needs for that paper. It can improve the efficiency of your supply chain as well.
4. Use Demand Forecasting to Anticipate Usage
One of the most effective ways to avoid manufacturing-related waste is demand forecasting. This technique analyzes potential customer demand so that businesses can more accurately make production decisions.
Without a good system in place for forecasting demand, businesses often end up overstocking and sitting on excess product they can’t move. Or they understock, which often results in rush supply and production orders to avoid losing precious sales. This puts further pressure on the supply chain, which can lead to mistakes and added waste from the extra steps taken to expedite the product.
With effective forecasting, you can cut down on the excess materials, packaging, fuel, time, and energy that are otherwise wasted. Instead, you anticipate demand and adjust accordingly.
5. Optimize Communication Channels
One of the most significant elements creating supply chain waste might surprise you.
The efficiency of your communication channels plays a huge role in creating — or reducing — costly logistical issues that generate extra waste. Those issues also chip away at your profits.
Logistical issues due to bad communication architecture can lead to wasted shipping space, supplies, and excess fuel usage. For example:
- Miscommunication can lead to a freight truck arriving at the wrong facility or after closing time, causing fuel waste.
- Slow communication or communication bottlenecks can cause batches of shipments that could have been combined into a single flight to instead ship separately. The result is wasted fuel through an extra unnecessary trip.
- Needless loops in information flow can cause added supply and other waste through accidental duplication of orders.
You may need to hire an outside expert to organize your communication channels, but doing so can help identify where issues exist, such as:
- Information bottlenecks
- Needless loops in information flow
- Breaks in communication or a lack thereof
To fix these types of communication issues and optimize those relevant channels, look for issues such as in the examples above. Where does information tend to cluster and stagnate?
Look for signs such as slow response times and reduced production speeds. Interview teams and leadership to determine the central communication errors they face.
As you improve the flow of communication, your supply chain waste will reduce naturally due to fewer recurring manufacturing and logistical missteps.
Be Proactive About Your Business Waste
Until you start to look around, you may not realize just how much you can reduce waste in your business’ facilities and supply chain.
Supply chains continue to be the major factor impacting the environment and will be until businesses take ownership of their waste production and begin steps to make those wasteful processes more efficient.
The great thing about working to reduce waste in your business is that the benefits are inevitably two-fold: The more you reduce your waste — and better forecast to reduce waste further in the future — the more efficient your supply chain becomes and the better your business operates as a whole.
About the Author
Brandyn Morelli is CEO of Tilt Metrics, a B2B growth agency based out of Providence, Rhode Island. He is also the co-founder of HelloCecil, a SaaS platform helping small businesses make smarter hires through video interviewing.