For a Better World: How New Technologies Enable Sustainable Supply Chain

November 20, 2019 | Anubhuti Shah, SAP

Anubhuti Shah-1

Why is the world so in need of a sustainable supply chain? Ahead of her talk at European Women in Technology, Anubhuti Shah, Senior Strategy Expert and Solution Management for Digital Supply Chain, SAP shared her insights. 

The World Economic Forum states that by 2050 oceans will hold more plastics than fish and numerous research institutions project that at least 1 out of 10 people will suffer from death caused by pollution-related diseases.

What caused these developments and how can we avoid further harm? How does sustainability correlate to the degree of digital connectivity of supply chains? In her talk at the European Women in Technology conference, November 26-27, 2019 in Amsterdam, Anubhuti Shah from SAP will explore answers to these questions. Further, Anu will share how technologies such as blockchain and machine learning enable businesses to build intelligent applications creating more sustainable supply chains.

We had the pleasure to talk to Anu prior to the conference to get a glimpse of her keynote and learn how companies make best use of new technology to foster the most effective AND sustainable supply chains – for a better world:

 

Why are we in demand for sustainable supply chains?

The word ‘sustainable’ refers to something that can be maintained at a constant level over a period of time. In other words, anything that is long-lasting. Consumers today are well educated. They want to know exactly how a product they intend to buy has been produced. This detail of information demands total transparency over the supply chain process of a product.

Consumers are very conscious about the sourcing of raw material, its carbon footprint and whether a product was manufactured in a safe working environment. To verify a products’ impact on the environment, for instance, is oftentimes critical for a purchasing decision. The consumer clearly demands businesses today to act, requesting sustainable supply chains and operational practices that work in favour of societies and the environment. 

 

What is the value of a sustainable supply chain?

In a little over 10 years from now, we will add yet another billion people to the 7.7 billion we already have gathered on this planet. Hence, the demand for products will increase even further. But until this day, we live in a world of “take, make, dispose” which means we extract primary resources at unprecedented rates and create huge amounts of waste.

Instead, we will need to de-couple continuous value creation from primary resource consumption to enable long-term economic viability in terms of a sustainable economy. We will need to repeatedly circulate resources in the current economic system (so called circular economy). Only then can we expect to meet the projected demand for goods and services of a rising population.

 

How does technology help us reduce waste?

It does so by creating end-to-end transparency. We need to know how a product was designed, produced, delivered, and how it should be disposed or decommissioned responsibly.

With the help of technology, we can create digital mirrors of the supply chain. Based on this visibility, companies can identify at every step of a supply chain, how to create products that can be re-used, how to manufacture and deliver with low carbon footprint and how to re- or upcycle as well as re-circulate its products.

Of course we need to keep in mind that the final call is still made by the decision makers of the company. Yet, it would be based on a different set of information due to this new insight. To be clear: Technology alone does not reduce waste. It provides the basis for better decision making and can help businesses to build trust with their consumers.

 

What other issues can technology tackle in supply chains?

Technology improves and increases the connectivity between people and entities. This provides greater transparency over how different entities operate.

Take the topic of work ethics for instance. Without the internet, we would not know that at the other end of the world, perhaps in Bangladesh, marginalised workers are protesting inhumane working conditions. Today, it takes seconds for a story about unethical practices to hit the media and make its way around the world.

Likewise, you can easily detect and minimise such risks. It would, for instance, reveal information about unethical working conditions at a specific supplier you were planning to do business with. In this case, data analytics would be helpful to correlate data from different sources to identify unethical practices such as modern slavery.

Again, it is up to us humans to take responsibility and make the world run better – but technology certainly helps to determine how to bring about improvements and to measure them.

 

About the Author

Anu is passionate about the social and environmental impact of technology to create better societies and economies. She started her career at Hewlett-Packard in Dubai to support business growth in emerging markets and thereafter worked in marketing research in the Middle East.

She completed her MBA at Mannheim Business School in Germany, with a focus on macroeconomics and strategic management and joined SAP in 2015 where she has held various roles in industry-specific enterprise software and business development. In her current role, Anu works at SAP Digital Supply Chain, which helps businesses to get customer-centric products to market faster and at less cost, to maximise efficiency and responsiveness and to provide visibility across the entire supply chain.

Anu's key takeaways from her talk at European Women in Technology will include:

  • Throw away” society and overuse of resources take its toll
  • Need to decouple continuous value creation from primary resource consumption
  • Reduce waste and transition to more circular economic models
  • Implement supply chains fostering sustainable businesses
  • Digital technologies enable a more sustainable world

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