OPINION: Why decarbonising the supply chain will require real-time geospatial data


Bart Coppelmans, director of industry solutions and global head of Supply Chain and Logistics at Here Technologies, explains the ways in which logistics stakeholders need to harness the power of data to accurately assess the carbon footprint of their supply chains in order that it can be reduced

Consumers are driving the pressure for companies to decarbonise supply chains, with awareness rising around environmental issues more generally, and corporate carbon emissions in particular.  For most companies, their supply chain is a far bigger source of carbon emissions than their internal operations. Eight global supply chains, in sectors such as food, construction and fashion, are responsible for 50% of the carbon emissions on planet Earth, according to research by the World Economic Forum.

But decarbonising the supply chain is complex and can be expensive – rather than skipping directly to electrifying fleets, companies need to understand where emissions in their supply chains are coming from, and focus on problematic areas in order to achieve the most impact while minimising their costs. The approach also emphasises the need for real-time geospatial data, to monitor parts of the chain that can be addressed today.

Supply chain decarbonisation won’t lead to increased prices

Supply-chain decarbonisation will be a ‘game changer’ for corporate climate action, according to research by The World Economic Forum. The organisation’s research also quashed worries that such action would be costly for businesses and consumers. Contrary to fears among supply chain professionals that taking action on sustainability would lead to increased prices for consumers, end-consumer costs are likely to rise by 1-4% at most, according to the World Economic Forum’s analysis.

So what steps can businesses take? Estimating emissions is a useful first step, using data such as vehicle types and detailed maps of routes, including gradients. Geospatial data provides real-time visibility of the supply chain, offering an overview of areas that companies can address quickly and accurately. This is both a key business goal for companies hoping to have more control of their supply chains, and a necessary first step for organisations hoping to make them more sustainable.

The key thing is to understand your current carbon footprint via the use of data. The next stages are to define targets, and then track the performance over time. Once you know the exact performance of your different modes of transport, you can then optimise emissions by selecting the best-performing ones.

Real-time visibility is a business imperative

It’s about understanding: once you have data drawn directly from vehicles, plus the geospatial context of the location, you can fully understand your carbon footprint right across the supply chain. Once you have that understanding, it’s easier to take the next steps towards decarbonisation, such as innovating suppliers based on their sustainability. Companies can integrate emissions metrics into the way they deal with suppliers, and work with suppliers to address their emissions and track their performance. Companies can also work to design their sourcing strategy with sustainability at its heart.

Truly visible and sustainable supply chains are on the horizon with the smart use of data. But this will require companies to take the steps to understand their impact on the planet, using the geospatial data they collect. Increasingly, it is a business imperative to improve the chain; Gartner predicted that 50% of global product-centric businesses will invest in real-time visibility across their supply chain by 2023. These are the just first steps on a journey towards a responsible supply chain. Building out from that understanding, companies can start to truly embrace cleaner ways of working and find solid strategies to deal with the climate emergency in impactful and meaningful ways.

Images: AdobeStock

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About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).