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Collaborate highlights: building more sustainable supply chains

On May 1, we brought together our UK customers, industry experts and Ligentia colleagues at our Ligentia Collaborate event in Leeds. We shared learnings from our session on harnessing AI and big data to transform supply chain management in an earlier blog – and now we’re taking a closer look at our session on sustainability!

James Paybody, Strategic Sales Director – UK, kicked off the session by discussing the intersection of sustainability and technology, highlighting how businesses can leverage technological advancements to drive environmental responsibility.

The role of technology in advancing sustainability

James emphasised the impact of technology on sustainability over the past five years, noting that advancements in AI and other technologies have significantly outpaced previous decades. He highlighted several key areas where technology is driving sustainability:

  • Optimising transport solutions: Technology enables businesses to choose the greenest transport options, balancing speed, cost, and environmental impact.
  • Reducing waste with inventory AI: By ensuring the right quantities are available when needed, inventory AI helps reduce waste and promotes responsible sourcing practices.
  • Data-driven decision making: Taking advantage of data-driven decisions allows businesses to balance environmental considerations with commercial priorities.
  • Regulatory compliance: Technology helps businesses stay ahead of regulatory changes and adopt best practices efficiently.

Building resilient and responsible supply chains

Amidst constant disruption, James highlighted the necessity for organisations to  build resilience into supply chains. He explained that real-time risk management, powered by AI and analytics, enables businesses to predict and react quickly to disruptions, ensuring continuity and sustainability.

Collaboration and transparency through cloud platforms were also emphasised. James recalled the outdated methods of manual data collation, contrasting them with today’s real-time, cloud-based data sharing that enhances decision-making across the supply chain.

CO2 emission monitoring and reporting

James discussed the findings from a CO2 emission survey involving multiple businesses. Key insights included:

  • Familiarity with CO2 reporting: Most businesses are aware of CO2 reporting requirements but vary in their practices and frequency of reporting.
  • Preparation and resources: Many businesses lack adequate preparation and resources for effective CO2 monitoring.
  • Drivers for compliance: Compliance is often driven by customer demands and regulatory requirements rather than intrinsic motivation.

The survey also revealed three common methods businesses use to collate emissions data: ESG teams, logistics teams, and less structured approaches, which are particularly common in the US.

Challenges and future directions

As he wrapped up, James acknowledged several challenges in advancing sustainability:

  • Budget constraints: Many businesses prioritise cost over environmental considerations and procurement teams drive decisions based on pricing, which can sideline sustainability efforts.
  • Final mile challenges: Obtaining specific emissions data for the final mile of transport remains difficult.
  • Ongoing learning: Continuous education and adaptation are essential as the regulatory landscape evolves.

Despite these challenges, James expressed optimism, noting a strong desire among individuals to make a positive impact. He concluded by emphasising the need for businesses to balance environmental initiatives with economic realities, fostering a collaborative approach to sustainability.

Sustainability panel

Following James’s presentation, we hosted a sustainability-focused panel discussion moderated by Jessica Clavette, Sustainability Manager for Equistone Partners Europe. Our panellists were:

  • David de Picciotto, CEO and cofounder, Pledge
  • Kara Ali, ESG Manager, Ligentia
  • Richard Gane, Customer Solutions Director, Ligentia

A huge thank you to all our panellists for their time and sharing their fantastic insights during the panel.

Here are the key takeaways from the discussion on technology and sustainability in supply chains, including timestamps from the video should you wish to watch the points in full.

The role of technology in sustainability (play at 00:02:37)

David de Picciotto highlighted the crucial role technology plays in enhancing sustainability within supply chains. He explained that technology acts as an enabler, especially for companies at the beginning of their sustainability journey. It helps reduce friction by streamlining processes, providing cost-effective solutions, and automating tasks, making it easier for companies to embark on and scale their sustainability initiatives. For companies already on this path, technology helps consolidate data and automate reporting, which is essential for accelerating the journey to net zero.

Challenges in measuring CO2 emissions (play at 00:04:15)

David also addressed the challenges of accurately measuring and reporting CO2 emissions, particularly in the complex field of international logistics. The main hurdles include accessing the right data and ensuring its integrity. Companies often struggle with fragmented data sources and a lack of standardisation in measurement methodologies. Overcoming these obstacles requires awareness and knowledge about sustainability practices and leveraging technology to collect and manage data efficiently.

Practical approaches to ESG goals (play at 00:06:22)

Richard Gane discussed how companies are addressing Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals while technology innovation continues to evolve. He noted that organisations are at different stages in their ESG journeys. Early adopters are now capable of managing full lifecycle assessments of their products, while those new to the journey are focusing on basic supply chain mapping and route optimisation. The key is to integrate ESG goals from the top down and embed sustainability practices throughout the organisation.

Transitioning to better carbon accounting methods (play at 00:07:25)

David expanded on carbon accounting, explaining the difference between spend-based and activity-based methodologies. Initially, companies may use high-level calculations, but as they progress, they shift to more detailed bottom-up calculations. This transition is often facilitated by having access to accurate and comprehensive data, which technology can help provide.

Embedding sustainability in organisational processes (play at 00:09:03)

Kara Ali discussed the importance of integrating ESG goals throughout the entire organisational process. This involves ensuring that sustainability is a core consideration in all business activities, from governance to customer service. By embedding sustainability into the company’s operations, organisations can ensure continuous improvement and alignment with their ESG objectives.

Emissions reporting and regulatory standards (play at 00:12:30)

The panel then explored emissions reporting and regulatory standards, highlighting the challenges posed by the lack of unified global regulations, with businesses struggling to meet rising expectations amid diverse geographical rules. Richard emphasised the importance of strategic partnerships and collaborative lobbying to push a unified sustainability agenda. Kara stressed the need for organisations to set and promote their own standards, while David de Picciotto pointed to emerging EU regulations and the Global Logistics Emissions Council framework as steps towards standardisation. The panel agreed on the necessity of proactive industry leadership and robust data management to drive sustainability in global supply chains.

Addressing social and governance priorities (play at 00:20:50)

The panel discussion shifted to addressing social and governance priorities in ESG, particularly how Ligentia helps customers navigate ethical trading and sustainable sourcing. Richard highlighted the advantage of Ligentia’s global offices, which provide local cultural and regulatory knowledge essential for implementing ESG initiatives. He explained how we ensure suppliers adhere to a stringent code of conduct and collaborate with third-party partners like Sedex for ethical trading standards. Kara emphasised the importance of aligning supplier policies with Ligentia’s standards, conducting audits, and ensuring compliance with diverse regulations across different countries.

Balancing ESG priorities with cost and quality (play at 00:24:11)

The panel then explored how companies prioritise ESG initiatives alongside competitive pricing and product quality. Jessica highlighted challenges in focusing on key ESG issues while meeting company objectives and consumer expectations. Richard stressed AI’s role in achieving competitive pricing and identified simple operational improvements like better inventory management and sustainable packaging to reduce carbon footprints quickly.

David, meanwhile, noted that successful companies build a business case for sustainability tied to profit improvements, citing examples of financial gains from certifications and renewable energy adoption. Richard also addressed infrastructure challenges, such as electric truck charging points, crucial for broader sustainability efforts. Strategic planning and data-driven decisions were underscored as essential for balancing ESG priorities with cost and quality.

Industry collaboration in sustainability (play at 00:27:56)

The panel went on to discuss the increasing interest in industry collaboration for sustainability. Richard noted client requests for comparative emissions data and advocated for sharing insights to drive improvements across businesses. David echoed this sentiment, citing collaborative efforts among sustainability leaders who viewed their company’s progress as a benchmark. Richard further discussed the benefits of collective engagement in carbon offsetting and sustainability initiatives, emphasising economies of scale and positive environmental impacts. Overall, the discussion illustrated a consensus on the value of collaboration in advancing sustainability goals across industries.

Consumer awareness and generational shifts (play at 00:39:52)

Another question raised concerns about the success of new retailers with questionable ESG priorities. Richard responded by noting that while Gen Z and Millennials show interest in ESG issues, they still demand a competitive price point and exist in a throwaway culture. He suggested that meaningful change may come as younger generations, who are more attuned to sustainability, grow older and influence policy and consumer behaviour. Richard emphasised that consumer behaviour drives change; if unsustainable practices continue to generate sales, little will change. He concluded that education and awareness regarding supply chain practices and ESG principles are important in fostering meaningful change in retail practices over the next few decades.

Concluding thoughts

As we wrapped up our discussion, it became clear that technology is at the heart of advancing sustainability in supply chains. By automating processes and making them more efficient, we can tackle challenges like scattered data and varying regulations more effectively. The key is to work together with unified strategies and forge strong partnerships.

Integrating sustainability into every aspect of how we operate, while balancing goals related to ESG goal, is crucial. And equally important is fostering industry wide collaboration to make real progress.

Watch the full panel recording