Since the 1750s, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have risen from about 280 to over 400 parts per million (ppm). This increase in Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions is in part a product of large-scale supply chains to sustain modern economies and lifestyles. The sixth assessment of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) reports that this unchecked GHG emissions has led to a 0.8-degree C increase in the global average surface temperature since 1900. If the current trends in emissions continue, the IPCC estimates that global temperatures will rise a further 1.4 to 5.8 degrees C by 2100. Scientists agree that such increases will likely disrupt ecosystems (about 30 percent of plant and animal species will face extinction), increase environmental and climate disasters, disrupt food supply, and cause widespread health issues. Such disruptions will impact supply chains in every country and in every industry, and the consequences are likely to be detrimental to a large portion of the world’s population, especially in the world’s impoverished countries.

There is much agreement today that to keep the global average temperature from increasing more than 1.5 to 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels, GHG emissions would need decline by 40 to 45 percent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.

My research in this broad area addresses how — at a strategic level — companies can chart glide paths that will help them grow while reducing GHG emissions in their supply chains. Interestingly, many companies are finding out that evaluating their supply chains through the lens of sustainability can provide a considerable competitive advantage. Sustainable supply chain management activities — which attempt to reduce the environmental impact of products throughout their entire life cycles — can motivate changes, which lead to increased quality, improved efficiency, and greater organizational effectiveness while improving the communities where they operate. In the future, it is those organizations that are able to secure the resources and proactively develop competencies to address the challenges of natural environmental constraints that will ultimately succeed.

Key collaborators

Tonya Boone (William and Mary), Vaidy Jayaraman (Great Lakes Institute)

Key publication