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Written By Ryan Yost, Avery Dennison Corp | Published on 02/05/2021


In the rush to keep products moving quickly and accurately across the supply chain, sustainability might be getting lost in the hurried conversations about revisiting best practices to increase efficiency.

Supply chain executives are experiencing the results of a seismic shift to online purchasing accelerated by COVID. Along with the exponential rise in online shopping, supply chains are now challenged with the volume of product expected to be delivered in the time windows that consumers have grown accustomed to. Consumers expect that their purchases will show up on their doorsteps within a day and even the same day. As 2021 begins, 20-25% of goods are now bought online, and that percentage will continue to rise, placing continuous pressure on supply chains to meet the rising demands of accelerated last-mile delivery.

It’s not surprising that sustainability may be taking a back seat, especially on the road to the last mile.  However, sustainability can play a huge role in optimizing last-mile fulfillment, while decreasing the carbon footprint.

Where Does Sustainability Fit In?

As the decade progresses, there will be increasing pressure on companies to help achieve global climate goals, while meeting increased consumer demands, especially in the new D2C world.  According to McKinsey, “consumer companies will have to greatly reduce the natural and social costs of their products and services to capitalize on rising demand for them without taxing the environment or human welfare. To that end, some companies will benefit from innovations that allow products to be made using less energy and material.”

However, the impact of driving sustainability along the supply chain and how to achieve it may not be immediately evident. Let’s take a moment to dial back on the complexity of the supply chain. Think about this: If you’re in the back of an idling truck trying to locate a package destined for the address at which you’ve just arrived, that truck is wasting gas.

If that driver delivers the wrong product — because it is mislabeled, misdirected or any other mistake has been made — that product will get returned, necessitating more gas, more packaging, and more cost in time and labor.

End-to-End Transparency

Back in the day (circa 2019), we used to go into a store and buy things, and the supply chain was mostly B2B. In the present moment, supply chains are rapidly adapting to a D2C environment.

Best practices for supply chains should be focusing on resilience, agility, flexibility and sustainability, along with the optimization of last-mile fulfillment. End-to-end supply chain transparency not only enables the last mile, but it drives sustainability as well. That’s where a technology like RFID comes into play.

A total RFID solution is a means to optimize supply chains and provide end-to-end transparency for each parcel: its location, its contents, its destination and when it is expected. Automated data-driven approaches in the supply chain are essential to keeping goods moving quickly and accurately. A total RFID solution has the capability to maintain intelligence as well as interpret it throughout the supply chain.

Data Drives Best Practices

The data generated through an end-to-end solution drives sustainability because it can be purposed in several ways. First, it is utilized to increase the velocity of moving goods onto trucks and, most importantly for sustainability, it can also be used to configure and optimize space on the truck according to the most efficient route to the destination of packages. How? By aggregating the data that enables movement of packages along the most efficient route.

Sustainability is achieved because with accurately boxed and shipped packages there are subsequently less trucks on the road and fewer airplanes in the air. The carbon footprint is minimized simply by knowing what you have, and in what order you should be delivering it.

By providing visibility across the supply chain and optimizing last mile fulfillment, a sustainable supply chain becomes reality.

Ryan Yost is vice president/general manager for the Printer Solutions Division (PSD) of Avery Dennison Corp. He is focused on building partnerships and solutions within the food, apparel and fulfillment industries.