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Supply Chain Sustainability Trends to Watch

Feb. 5, 2024
A monthly roundup of recent supply chain sustainability news and trends.

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Minimizing the negative environmental and social impacts of supply chains—the movement of goods from the point of raw material to final disposal—has become a top priority for global organizations. Reducing carbon emissions, conserving resources, reducing packaging waste and ensuring ethical sourcing are just some of the key sustainability goals that are receiving more attention lately. 

Electronic design is one area where experts think more can be done on the sustainability front. In “How electronic engineers can design for sustainability (and make it pay off),” Tom Lombardo writes about how worldwide consumption of electrical and electronic products is growing at a rate of 2.5 million metric tons per year, with less than 20% of the e-waste being recycled. At this rate, global e-waste could increase to 75 million metric tons by the end of the decade.

“There’s a potential market in recycling electronic products, as they contain valuable metals like copper, gold, platinum and silver, but the lack of an e-waste recycling infrastructure makes reclaiming these materials difficult and more expensive than simply mining for virgin resources,” Lombardo points out. “That will eventually change on its own as commodities become scarce, but the industry would benefit by being proactive rather than reactive, and developing this infrastructure before the supply chain for these materials goes critical.”

Lombardo sees engineers playing an important role in their companies’ sustainability initiatives now and in the future. “Sustainable design capability is already becoming a job requirement for engineers,” he asks, “so what are you doing to make your products—and your career—more sustainable?”

Doing their Part

One online marketplace for industrial and lab equipment is helping manufacturers realize the benefits of the circular economy (defined as a system where materials never become waste and nature is regenerated). As part of the 3S Circular network, EquipNet helps companies facilitate worldwide sustainable growth by allowing them to close the loop of their production equipment, Sustainability Magazine reports. 

“EquipNet allows manufacturers to tap into further benefits of the circular economy, such as shortening lead times on high-demand materials and products—leveraging efficient methods in production also support this—as well as reduce waste and, in turn, greater financial benefits from leaner use of materials,” the publication adds.

According to E-Scrap News, device repair and reuse is another hot sustainability topic for electronics manufacturers and distributors right now. At a recent E-Scrap Conference and E-Reuse Conference, for example, panelists discussed the various “right-to-repair” bills that passed in four states. One area that’s still being worked out is standards, with one recently-introduced standard being the WISE (Wireless Industry Service Excellence) certification, to certify repair locations and repair technicians. 

E-Scrap News says Samsung is using a “same-unit repair” strategy that involves partnering with companies such as UBreakiFix and Best Buy. To date, Samsung has about 1,300 third-party Authorized Service Center (ASC) repair locations for cell phones. This gives consumers multiple options for obtaining service for their devices, the publication notes.

A Birds-Eye View of the Entire Supply Chain

In other supply chain sustainability news, Fujitsu Limited and YE DIGITAL CORPORATION agreed to work together to provide distribution center-related services in Japan. With this new venture, the two companies want to address societal issues in the field of logistics (to contribute to the elimination of labor shortages) and help cultivate sustainable supply chains in Japan.

The two companies will provide Fujitsu's warehouse management system (WMS) services to improve distribution center efficiency and YE DIGITAL's WES MMLogiStation to automate warehouse operations. 

“By combining the respective strengths of each company, including distribution center-related services, automation technologies such as robots, and business expertise,” Fujitsu said in a press release, “Fujitsu and YE Digital will design a distribution center that provides a bird's-eye view of the entire supply chain.”

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