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Jan 08 2024

Case Studies: Companies Leading the Way in Supply Chain Decarbonisation

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Case Studies: Companies Leading the Way in Supply Chain Decarbonisation

When it comes to tackling the climate crisis, businesses have a critical role to play. After all, the private sector accounts for the vast majority of global greenhouse gas emissions, and has the power to drive the transition to a net-zero economy through its purchasing decisions, investments, and influence.

But while many companies have set ambitious targets to reduce their own operational emissions (known as Scope 1 and 2), far fewer have taken on the complex challenge of decarbonizing their supply chains (Scope 3). And yet, for most businesses, Scope 3 emissions represent the lion's share of their total carbon footprint - often 70% or more.

That's why the companies that are leading the way in supply chain decarbonisation deserve special recognition and attention. These are the businesses that are not only setting bold goals, but also taking concrete actions to engage suppliers, transform systems, and accelerate progress towards a more sustainable, circular economy.

So who are these supply chain sustainability champions, and what can we learn from their examples? Here are three case studies of companies that are driving meaningful change across their value chains:

Case Study 1: Walmart - Project Gigaton

As the world's largest retailer, Walmart has an outsized impact on global supply chains - and an outsized opportunity to drive sustainability at scale. In 2017, the company launched Project Gigaton, an ambitious initiative to avoid one billion metric tons (a gigaton) of greenhouse gas emissions from its global value chain by 2030.

To achieve this goal, Walmart is working with its suppliers to set science-based emissions reduction targets, invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency, reduce waste and packaging, and adopt more sustainable agricultural practices. The company has also created an online platform, the Sustainability Hub, to provide suppliers with tools, resources, and best practices for reducing emissions and measuring progress.

So far, more than 2,300 suppliers have signed on to Project Gigaton, representing over $1 trillion in sales. And the initiative is already delivering results: in 2020, Walmart and its suppliers collectively avoided 230 million metric tons of emissions - more than the annual emissions of France.

What makes Project Gigaton so successful? A few key factors:

Clear, measurable goals: By setting a specific, time-bound target (one gigaton by 2030), Walmart has created a clear north star for its suppliers and stakeholders to rally around. Collaborative approach: Rather than dictating terms or imposing mandates, Walmart is working closely with suppliers to co-create solutions and build capacity for change. Transparency and accountability: Through the Sustainability Hub and annual reporting, Walmart is providing transparency on its progress and holding itself and its suppliers accountable for results.

Case Study 2: Unilever - Sustainable Living Plan

Unilever, one of the world's largest consumer goods companies, has long been a leader in sustainability. But in 2010, the company took its commitment to the next level with the launch of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, a comprehensive strategy to decouple its growth from its environmental footprint and increase its positive social impact.

One of the key pillars of the Sustainable Living Plan is sustainable sourcing - the goal of sourcing 100% of the company's agricultural raw materials sustainably by 2020. To achieve this, Unilever has worked closely with its suppliers and partners to promote regenerative agriculture, reduce deforestation, and support smallholder farmers.

For example, in 2018, Unilever announced a partnership with Orbital Insight, a geospatial analytics company, to use satellite imagery and machine learning to monitor its palm oil supply chain for deforestation and other sustainability risks. By combining this data with on-the-ground engagement and capacity building, Unilever has been able to drive significant improvements in the sustainability of its palm oil sourcing.

Unilever has also been a leader in promoting sustainable packaging and the circular economy. The company has committed to making 100% of its packaging recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025, and to using at least 25% recycled plastic in its packaging by 2025. To achieve these goals, Unilever has partnered with organizations like the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the Closed Loop Fund to develop new packaging solutions and build recycling infrastructure.

What can we learn from Unilever's approach to sustainable sourcing and circular economy? A few key lessons:

Holistic strategy: By embedding sustainability into its core business strategy, Unilever has been able to drive progress across multiple fronts, from agriculture to packaging to social impact. Partnerships and collaboration: Unilever recognizes that it can't achieve its sustainability goals alone, and has actively sought out partnerships with NGOs, governments, and other stakeholders to drive systems change. Innovation and technology: By leveraging cutting-edge technologies like satellite imaging and machine learning, Unilever is able to gain new insights into its supply chain and drive more targeted, impactful interventions.

Case Study 3: Apple - Supplier Clean Energy Program

Apple, the world's most valuable company, has set an ambitious goal to become carbon neutral across its entire supply chain and product lifecycle by 2030. To achieve this, the company is working to transition its global supply chain to 100% renewable electricity, as well as investing in nature-based solutions and carbon removal technologies.

One of the key initiatives driving this transition is Apple's Supplier Clean Energy Program, launched in 2015. Through the program, Apple works with its suppliers to assess their energy use, identify opportunities for renewable energy procurement, and provide support and incentives for making the switch.

As of 2021, more than 110 of Apple's manufacturing partners in 24 countries have committed to 100% renewable electricity for their Apple production. This represents nearly 8 gigawatts of clean energy commitments, avoiding over 15 million metric tons of CO2e emissions per year - the equivalent of taking 3.4 million cars off the road.

But Apple isn't just focused on renewable energy. The company is also working with suppliers to reduce emissions from materials and processes, such as the use of recycled and low-carbon aluminum in its products. And it is investing in nature-based solutions, such as mangrove restoration and forest protection, to sequester carbon and build resilience in its supply chain.

What sets Apple's approach apart? A few key factors:

Leadership and accountability: Apple has set clear, science-based targets for its supply chain emissions, and holds its suppliers accountable for meeting them through regular reporting and third-party verification. Capacity building and support: Rather than simply mandating change, Apple works closely with its suppliers to build their capacity for renewable energy procurement and emissions reduction, providing tools, training, and financial incentives. Nature-based solutions: By investing in nature-based solutions alongside renewable energy and efficiency, Apple is taking a holistic, ecosystem-based approach to supply chain decarbonisation. These are just a few examples of the many companies that are leading the way in supply chain decarbonisation and sustainable procurement. From consumer goods giants to tech titans to retailers and beyond, businesses across industries are recognizing the urgent need - and the untapped opportunity - to drive sustainability and resilience across their value chains.

Of course, no company is perfect, and there is always more work to be done. But by learning from these pioneers and adopting their best practices, more and more businesses can accelerate their own supply chain sustainability journeys and contribute to the global goal of a net-zero, circular economy.

As a sustainability and supply chain professional, I find these case studies both inspiring and instructive. They demonstrate that supply chain decarbonisation is not only possible, but also profitable - and that it requires a holistic, collaborative, and innovative approach that engages suppliers, stakeholders, and systems.

But perhaps most importantly, they show that business can be a powerful force for positive change in the world. By leveraging their scale, influence, and resources to drive sustainability across their value chains, companies like Walmart, Unilever, and Apple are not only reducing their own environmental footprint, but also catalyzing broader shifts towards a more just, resilient, and regenerative economy.

So let these case studies be a call to action - for business leaders, sustainability professionals, and anyone who cares about the future of our planet. Let them inspire us to aim higher, think bigger, and act bolder in our pursuit of a more sustainable, equitable world. And let them remind us that we all have a role to play in building the supply chains - and the economy - of tomorrow.

The journey to supply chain sustainability is long and complex, but the destination is clear. By working together, learning from each other, and never settling for business as usual, we can create a future where people, planet, and prosperity thrive in harmony. Let's get started.

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