More UK Businesses Commit to Making Their Supply Chains More Sustainable

Aside from government action through climate policy and programmes, companies play an equally crucial role in cutting carbon emissions and slowing down the devastating effects of global warming

In an article from The Economist, Robert King discusses how corporate engagement must go beyond setting net-zero targets.

Since supply chains are often where the biggest emissions come from, businesses and organisations must concentrate their efforts on reducing their carbon footprint at every stage, from planning and procurement to manufacturing and distribution. Across sectors like food, fashion, retail, and technology, more and more UK firms are demonstrating their commitment to sustainable supply chains, making a positive impact while also driving growth and innovation.

Shifting to renewable energy
One primary step businesses take to pledge carbon neutrality is to run all their operations on renewable energy. Although these renewable sources include wind power and biomass, UK businesses are incentivised to utilise solar power above all else, as nearly 88% of the British public express their support for this energy source. Among the companies leading the shift to solar power is the supermarket giant Tesco. Its major green electricity project involves the installation of over 15,000 solar panels for on-site generation across 14 store locations. Its targets also go hand in hand with the UK’s country-wide Net Zero goals by 2035, with any surplus power generated being fed back into the national grid.

Purchasing equipment wisely
Even when private enterprises are not directly involved in deploying green energy and technologies, they help achieve net-zero targets by minimising carbon footprint in working environments. For instance, the information technology (IT) sector is transforming its procurement processes to better align with the principles of a circular economy. IT estates opt for refurbished tech and extend the lifecycle of staff devices still in use instead of merely purchasing new equipment with associated emissions from their manufacturing and delivery. Such initiatives also reveal how businesses can dramatically bring down operational and logistical costs when underpinned by a sustainable approach.

Using sustainable materials
The clothing industry is one of the most energy-intensive industries, producing 8-10% of global carbon emissions, mainly due to the fast-paced design, production, and distribution. In this light, outdoor eyewear and apparel brand Oakley plays a part in environmental sustainability by ensuring its hoodies and sweaters are made with lightweight, organic fabrics like cotton. Its membership under the Better Cotton initiative also promotes the use of recycled, Fairtrade, and sustainably farmed and sourced cotton. As Oakley has retail stores all over the UK, including the Covent Garden location in London, the brand is helping make sustainable materials more mainstream among clothing consumers.

Exploring eco-friendly types of packaging
Single-use plastics are the most common form of packaging but otherwise account for a significant proportion of global oil consumption and waste. Companies like the confectionery maker Mars, Inc. are thus swapping their usual plastic wrappers with more environmentally-friendly packaging materials like paper. The firm has invested heavily in meeting its goal of reducing single-use plastics in the short term while also redesigning paper packaging solutions that can still meet the standards for food safety and integrity. Mars joins major food corporations like Nestlé in launching recyclable packaging that also helps retail stores, supermarkets, and consumer households reduce their carbon footprint in the process.

As consumer demand for more sustainable production and business models increases, companies must be careful of the risk of ‘greenwashing’, which happens when products are claimed to be environmentally friendly while still being manufactured from operations that go against principles of sustainability and have the same negative environmental impact. Businesses in the UK are thus called to communicate their sustainable efforts transparently and with sufficient research evidence.

Collaborative post by Jade Boyle

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