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Using digital tech to unlock supply chain carbon strategies

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Lyndon Stratford

Julian David

CEO, techUK

More companies are now working to improve the sustainability of their supply chains through decarbonisation and using emerging digital technologies to tackle the oncoming challenges.


A fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions come from multinational companies’ global supply chains, according to a study last year by British and Chinese researchers.

Companies can make a huge impact in the fight against climate change by decarbonising their supply chains. In January, the World Economic Forum said it could be a “game changer” for the impact of corporate climate action. Its research found that net-zero supply chains would hardly increase end-consumer costs.

Making a commitment to change

More and more companies are committing to action in their supply chain. But supply chain emission management is not easy: a fundamental challenge is the limited transparency and there is a lack of accurate, objective, and accessible data.

Emerging digital technologies – such as data analytics, smart sensors, and blockchain – are starting to be used by companies to help them get a handle on their supply chain emissions data. In turn, this data, and the insights that can be gleaned from it using advanced data analytics, can inform strategies to support and incentivise suppliers.

Blockchain, enabled by sensors or smart contracts, can help to plug data gaps, delivering trusted, accountable, and timely data. Porsche-backed project CarbonBlock is using smart contracts and blockchain to track emissions in the car company’s supply chain.

We are only at the beginning of seeing these technologies being applied to drive climate action, and new digital technologies such as edge will no doubt play an important role by supporting local data analytics.

Using data to drive sustainability

Some companies are also using this data to drive demand for more sustainable products. Covalent is using IBM’s blockchain technology for its AirCarbon products to, not only track carbon in the supply chain, but then share that information with their customers.

Others are using it to drive out unsustainable supply chain practices. JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, will use blockchain to monitor its beef supply chain to drive out deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.

Machine learning is being used with other technologies to optimise freight – responsible for 3% of global carbon emissions – by finding optimal routes, minimise shipments and preventing waste through better forecasting demand.

We are only at the beginning of seeing these technologies being applied to drive climate action and new digital technologies, such as edge, will no doubt play an important role by supporting local data analytics. But already these examples hint at the potential of these emerging technologies in helping to unlock supply chain emission strategies.

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