Herald Op-ed – Agenda: Green principles must be brought to bear on supply chain

RECENT figures released as part of a survey by UPS has suggested a majority of Europeans now have a profile of consumer behaviours which, unless acknowledged, could become contradictory and reduce consumer confidence in the e-commerce market.

The UPS Smart E-commerce report 2021 found that half of all Europeans will do “all” or “most” of their shopping online, even after the pandemic and related restrictions on consumer life are behind us. In the UK, the figure is even higher. A whopping 67 per cent of British respondents said that they would shop completely or mostly online after the pandemic.

This raises an existential concern. With a rise in online shopping and a lengthening of supply chains to fulfil orders with products from the EU and beyond, consumers and businesses alike must consider the environmental cost of such consumer trends. It seems consumers have already set the agenda in this regard. Eighty-five per cent of respondents to the UPS survey said that they took a retailer’s choice of fulfilment partner and their green credentials into consideration. Moreover, some 41% said that this sustainable fulfilment would influence their purchasing decisions.

We were told consumers cared about quality products. Then they cared about experiences. Now, it seems, they care about the future, too.

As the world opens up again, businesses need to ensure sustainability is a key part of their recovery plan. If the incentive of preserving the planet for future generations wasn’t enough, it is now obvious that it is profitable to pursue Green A to B-ism.

Green A to B-ism is a really useful idea used in urban design. The urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen described it as “if you want people to ride bicycles in a city, you make the bicycle the fastest way from A to B in a city. Safe infrastructure, traffic calming, bike racks. Period.” The greenest, healthiest way to travel should be the fastest and most convenient. This concept can, and should, be extended to the consumer supply chain. The greenest fulfilment methods should be the cheapest and easiest. Convenience cannot come at the expense of sustainability if we are to have a truly sustainable future.

Just as Andersen says that making something faster makes it more attractive, it is clear that up until now, unsustainable practices in the supply chain were the fastest and most attractive option companies hellbent on growth. This must change.

Sustainable practices like automatic lighting in warehouses, paperless administration and using sustainable raw materials should be easier to get a hold of than their unsustainable counterparts. We need entrepreneurship to make this a reality. A plastic mail bag is half the price of an organic one at the moment, so companies who are strapped for cash will be drawn to the more harmful option. We need new, sustainable solutions at all points in the supply chain.

Consumers have set this green agenda and challenged us to meet their expectations. It’s time we did.

Rukhsar Ahmed is Director, Green Fulfilment