Carbon Footprint of Supply Chains

Focus Area

Climate Change


Air Quality, Environmental Process







Research Idea Scope

Supply chains are designed for the processing, staging, and carriage of goods to market. Design choices are determined by sourcing decisions, production and competitive requirements, logistical economies, product characteristics, land uses and values, construction and input costs, multiple technologies, infrastructure networks, and still other influences. Choices have material consequences for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and render aspects of them variable or fixed for periods of time. Many companies have made carbon footprint measurements for their individual supply chains, just as many freight operators have measured their particular contributions. Nevertheless, lacking is systematic research into the overall carbon footprint of supply chains for key industrial sectors of the economy, first for assessment of their relative GHG impacts and the gains available from improvement, and second for estimation of the comparative consequence of supply chain designs and components.
This research would perform case studies of at least five multimodal supply chains, representative of major segments of national economic activity. The study would seek cooperation of industry to identify mutually beneficial strategies for the public and private sectors. Each study will develop calculations of the total GHG emissions of the chain and provide an accounting of component elements, including consideration of energy efficiency. It would particularly highlight the transportation components of the supply chains where significant improvements may be made. Cross-sector comparisons then will be prepared for the set of studies, analyzing the reasons for differences and their susceptibility to change, and identifying carbon reduction opportunities.
The objective is improved understanding of a) the GHG emission profiles of major supply chains in the national economy; b) the primary contributors to those profiles; and c) the opportunities and obstacles toward improvement.
Related Work
Carbon footprints of production and distribution processes have been estimated in various industries in the U.S. and overseas, and are reported or referenced in industry sources or in proceedings such as those of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals. For example; Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. containerized importer, has several initiatives underway to help improve climate and energy impacts of its supply chains. It has set a goal of doubling the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet to 13 mpg by 2015. Further, it is requiring suppliers to implement RFID technology to improve the efficiency and sustainability of their supply chains.
The EPA SmartWay program has looked extensively at fuel efficiency of freight carriage as a route to carbon efficiency, and has begun to explore these factors in the larger context of supply chain structures.
GHG management in the freight sector is being pushed forward by the actions of individual supply chain companies to improve their company footprints, for their own purposes and to be ahead of the effects of probable federal legislation. Objective review of supply chain issues is needed as an aid to public policy on GHG in transportation, economic development, and environmental management. 

Urgency and Payoff

Depiction of the carbon footprints of major forms of supply chains and their significant components can lead to improvements in supply chain design, commercial development policy, properties, operating forms and technology options, and transportation policies, programs, and performance management.
EffectivenessThe carbon profile of freight transportation is substantially determined by supply chain structures, so that improvements in the former partly depend on opportunities in the latter. Moreover, the GHG implications of industrial processes, buildings, and geographic staging patterns lay on top of the direct movement of goods. The combined result is a material component of national emissions that intersects with public policy at a variety of points. The effectiveness of this research would be demonstrated by the breadth of opportunities for GHG reductions it uncovers or suggests, and their probable magnitude in the economy

Suggested By

RNS. Sponsoring Committee: A0020T, Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy Source Info: Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy January 2010 Workshop