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Blog series | Trends and issues in the supply chain: sustainability

Especially in recent years, sustainability has been one of the buzzwords across all industries.

As we face climate change, everyone is encouraged to reduce their impact on the environment. In this blog, we address the definition of sustainability, look at developments in the industry and what technological solutions help you to be more sustainable in your operations.

What even is sustainability? 

The impact of a business isn’t measured in dollars and cents alone – it’s also measured in the role the company plays in changing the world for the better. Sustainability can be defined as: “the ability to not harm the environment or deplete natural resources thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” 
For the supply chain, this often means investing in technology that enables the business to make smarter, greener decisions. This technology can happen within the four walls (like going paperless) or on a larger scale (like carefully planning truck routes to reduce emissions).

What effects does this have on the supply chain?

Until recently, sustainability initiatives have been focused on the manufacturing end of the supply chain. Now the spotlight is on distribution and transportation, and the measures those companies can enact to reduce their ecological impact.

Many large companies, like Coca-Cola, Procter and Gamble, and Siemens have made public promises to become more eco-friendly. These companies expect their first-tier suppliers to comply with those standards as well. They ask those suppliers, in turn, to ask their suppliers—who ideally ask the same from their suppliers. This creates a ripple effect of sustainability which has a positive environmental impact.  

In addition to pressure from customers, there is also pressure from governmental agencies. The Paris Agreement was signed by 195 countries, all pledging to take steps toward sustainable, low-carbon policies. This global agreement puts pressure on supply chains to significantly reduce their carbon footprint, with a tentative timeline of being carbon neutral by 2030.

Consumers are also making changes in buying behavior, as they seek products and vendors that support the initiatives they believe in. This impacts companies in B2C markets (where consumers drive behavior) but has a significant impact in the B2B space as well. Businesses are looking to work with vendors that are not only supportive of sustainability initiatives, but also taking steps to be sustainable themselves.

Questions you might be asking yourself:

  • As governments, investors and consumers shift to a more sustainable, clean, and carbon-free environment, what impact will this have on our business?
  • Have similar companies in our sector launched corporate sustainability goals and strategies?
  • What sustainability practices can we institute to align with domestic regulations, and global targets like The Paris Agreement?
  • In what ways can we better integrate corporate sustainability with profitability?

How can technology help?

There are several options you have how technology can support your endeavor to become more sustainable. Find a few examples which our solution offerings cover below.

Supply chain network design:

When looking for a new distribution building, you should consider ways to minimize transport to and from it. When warehouses are closer to cities and other access hubs, trucks travel less distance, and workers can use public transport to get to work. Taking into consideration everything that makes your business unique, our supply chain network design solution will help you determine optimal locations for new warehouses.


The best use of space is often vertical but manual labor cannot always efficiently use it in a warehouse. Employing automation solutions can allow warehouses to maximize the space they have by optimizing all of it - vertically as well as horizontally. 

Voice solutions:

With voice, teams will receive all instructions from a headset instead of a paper pick list. This not only removes the cost and waste of paper but also handheld devices, printer, and ink purchases. The voice devices are built for the warehouse, which means they can survive drops and dings without needing repairs. This results in less packaging and shipping to the repair center and back.

Hardware options:

Bluetooth beacons use Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to perform proximity detection that alerts users when a social distancing violation is about to occur. This is a lightweight, wearable hardware solution that does not require integration into a warehouse management system or warehouse execution system.

Transportation Management Systems: 

Reorganizing transport networks can pay dividends economically and environmentally. Our transportation management systems can help provide the information to do just that. Changing distribution centers and sharing loads can reduce empty mileage and therefore emissions for the same cargo volume.

Our Marine Enterprise System can help companies with shipping vessels stay sustainable:

Marine vessels are one of the largest sources of pollution in the ocean and have a large focus on reducing emissions as much as possible. Our Marine Enterprise Suite helps reduce the time spent idling in ports by enhancing port scheduling, helping limit pollution.

Cloud hosting:

When you deploy your supply chain solutions in the cloud, they significantly decrease the power necessary to run a warehouse with an on-premise solution. A cloud platform deployed regionally or globally can reduce the number of servers and back-up systems required. Utilizing an energy efficient datacenter ensures less electricity to run the system. 
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs):

The idea of “dark” (with limited human input) warehouses is relatively new. A warehouse can run more efficiently by subsidizing their workforce with AMRs during their regular shifts. Adding a dark third shift greatly reduces power needed to run the shift.

Finally, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS):

Sometimes changing strategies is the key to becoming sustainable and having a WMS that can adapt along with your business is key. Rather than using dedicated distribution centers for the different fulfillment channels, you may seek to take on an omnichannel approach. This will require substantial change, and rely on the WMS to stay reliable, flexible, and scalable. The WMS can also optimize space usage, helping reduce footprint and save on transport.

Körber’s supply chain solutions enable you to have a more positive impact through increased sustainability. Our advanced software and automation technologies deliver efficiency that helps cut energy waste in warehouses and empty miles on the road. Working with Körber allows you to efficiently grow your global footprint while shrinking you carbon footprint. And it’s important to note that inevitably, sustainability initiatives reduce cost, too. Efficient energy and reduced consumption means less investment in the long run.

Related solutions

Software Solutions

Software Solutions are designed to help manufacturing and distribution organizations to maximize space, improve efficiencies and increase productivity across the business.

System Integration & Automation

Manufacturing and distribution organizations know that automation can improve efficiencies, maximize space and increase productivity across their supply chains.

Voice, Vision & Mobility

Körber’s voice, vision and mobility solutions will help you to reengineer and improve your processes while optimizing business efficiency.


In an environment where speed, efficiency and precision are everything, robotics are key. Körber’s suite of robotic solutions respond to today’s supply chain demands, optimizing your floor operations, transportation, processing, fulfillment and staff safety.

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