Gartner: CSCOs Must Adopt Resource Conservation Strategies

March 25, 2022  

As inflation and supply shortages are projected to continue, chief supply chain officers (CSCOs) must adopt resource conservation strategies to mitigate risks to their organizations, according to Gartner.

“CSCOs foresee that the anticipated increases in inflation and ongoing supply shortages will lead to further production challenges and shipping ineffectiveness,” said Sarah Watt, senior director analyst with the Gartner Supply Chain practice. “These constraints are not short-term, and the underlying trend is that demand for goods is rising, while supply is increasingly scarce.”

Additionally, CSCOs face pressure from internal and external stakeholders to make their networks more sustainable. According to a Gartner survey of 983 supply chain professionals from August 2021 through October of 2021, 67% of respondents said they were investing in including environmental and social sustainability metrics as KPIs for supply chain leaders.

Resource conservation is a key factor in mitigating these challenges. Gartner suggests three strategies, CSCOs can deploy.

Slow Down Primary Consumption by Employing Circular Economy Models

So far, economic progress has been based on linear consumption - take, make, dispose. However, there’s a slow, but steady shift towards circular economy models. “The circular economy provides an opportunity to decouple raw materials from growth. Circular economy activities range from as-a-service models to incentivized return and collaborative consumption,” Watt said.

Another important aspect is the ownership of end-of-life materials, especially if they contain valuable raw material. If companies manage to close the loop, they can become more resilient against supply shortages. “Essentially some suppliers are using “end-of-life” materials as a hedge against inflation and availability concerns,” Watt said.

Before embarking on a circular economy strategy, Watt recommends that both environmental, financial, and societal impacts are assessed at a product and service level. “The circular economy choice may also come with unintended consequences. CSCOs need to define the best candidates for circularity, or they may end up creating increased environmental burden rather than reducing it.”

Treat Waste Like a Value-Based Asset

In an environment of constrained supply, CSCOs must capitalize on the potential value of waste and see it as an asset. Capitalizing on value can be achieved by building ecosystem partnerships with waste contractors, suppliers and innovators. With new legislation being passed around producer responsibility and changes in waste regulation, waste will be increasingly seen as a liability – when it could also be a resource. CSCOs need to shift their strategies to encompass waste streams, and gain control so that waste materials can be used effectively.

Joe Marcaurelle, Inmar Intelligence Director of Product Strategy - Supplytech explained," One of the greatest waste generators in supply chains are product returns – or supply chain speak – reverse logistics.

Last year, approximately five billion pounds of returned goods ended up in landfills. However, achieving a landfill diversion rate of 99% is possible with end-to-end returns platforms. These types of comprehensive solutions increase sustainability by keeping returned goods in commerce and out of landfills.

Keeping returned goods in commerce can take several paths, including return-to-stock, return-to-vendor, refurbishment, and liquidation. Donation is also a viable alternative. While it doesn’t put goods back into commerce, it does extend the life of discarded items and averts landfills, while helping those in need.

As Ms. Watt points out, end-of-life materials can still add value. For example, electronics can be “parted-out” for component repairs and warranty claims. Precious metals such as gold, silver, platinum, and palladium can be extracted and resold, while the remaining components get recycled. Companies like Best Buy and Staples offer electronics recycling services. The EPA also has programs for donating and recycling electronics.

Items not managed in the processes mentioned above are sent to an energy-from-waste provider, where waste is converted to energy through steam-generating combustion chambers. Steam from the process is condensed back into water and used again, making the entire closed-loop process very efficient and sustainable. To put this in perspective, If the five billion pounds of returned goods that ended up in landfills were converted to energy, it would produce enough electricity to run 315M homes for an entire year. Note: Each ton of waste generates 550-700 kWh."

Preserve Natural Capital

Natural capital is the stocks of geology, soil, air, and water that organizations rely on for production of materials. Without stocks of natural capital, supply chains would not function. However, natural capital is viewed as an externality - no one pays for it.

CSCOs must shift their relationships with natural capital and focus on activities such as reducing biodiversity loss, fighting deforestation, or exploring regenerative agriculture. “The risk today is that CSCOs are spending the feedstocks more quickly than they can regenerate, and supply chains must make sure that they don’t destroy the very base of their business,” Watt concluded.

Duane Paul, the General Manager of SmartSolve said, "The three strategies highlighted here are insightful, especially around assessing the environmental, financial, and societal impacts at a product and service level. Coincidently, SmartSolve materials go beyond recycling. We work closely with our customers to help meet the environmental, and societal impacts at the product and service level for their businesses."

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