What is really in my beef burger? Is my new shirt coming from an unsafe Bangladeshi factory? Is my chicken fed GM food? Customers now don’t always take what they use and consume for granted. Company supply chains and practices are under increasing scrutiny, and recent events – such as the horsemeat scandal – demonstrate how important traceability and transparency are.
The supply chain is now considered a fundamental part of a company’s responsibility. In its new G4 Guidelines, the Global Reporting Initiative is encouraging disclosure of performance and impacts all along the supply chain. A truly sustainable company should be able to demonstrate high ethical and environmental standards from cradle to grave.
The first step is to achieve visibility on the provenance of your products including the raw materials they contain, and where the impacts occur along the supply chain. This is definitely a challenge, with today’s supply chains being highly complex and globalized.
Take orange juice, for example. An apparently simple product, surely the sustainability issues can’t be that complex? Just the opposite, as our supply chain maps recently developed for Defra and the soft drink industry show.
It turns out that the orange juice we drink in the UK has a highly sophisticated supply chain, involving orchards in warmer climates, large scale processors, impressive specialist container ships, dedicated port terminals and trading between various countries before it reaches thirsty British customers.
This map shows that our orange juice mostly comes from Brazil, representing nearly three-quarters of our supply. For soft drinks companies looking to improve their track record, working with Brazilian growers certainly seems like a good place to start. Another interesting finding is the surprisingly complex and obscure trading that the juice goes through once it reaches European ports. In addition, concentrated juice is stored for long period of time in a frozen state, consuming significant amounts of energy. Therefore, working towards a more direct supply chain could have a great impact in terms of financial, carbon and energy savings.
This mapping exercise was recently published as part of the evidence to support a UK Soft Drinks Sustainability Roadmap, which aims to help the industry focus on areas where significant improvements can be made along the whole supply chain. For orange juice, as for many other products, the main impacts are in the early stages of production, meaning that collaborating closely with suppliers is key.
Mapping your supply chain will not solve the issues by itself, but it will give you the information you need to understand where impacts and opportunities are. The benefits resulting from a transparent and responsible supply chain are numerous: increased resource efficiencies, improved supply chain resilience, higher quality products, and a better reputation.
Sophie Martin is an Analyst at Best Foot Forward.