PhD Workshop: How to make supply chain management sustainable?

Group photo in front of a Woolworths company site

What are the challenges to achieve supply chain sustainability? How do possible solutions look like – and how do perspectives differ between Europe and Africa? 30 Ph.D.s and post-doc researchers as well as eight professors came together to discuss these questions at a workshop on sustainable supply chain management at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The event was co-hosted by KLU, Kühne Foundation and Stellenbosch University and aimed to introduce new and innovative research perspectives on the field of sustainable logistics and SCM to early career researchers. Besides KLU professors Alan McKinnon and Kai Hoberg, six more professors joined the event as speakers as well as top experts from the industry. In this interview, the participants Dounia Chlyeh and Manijeh Komeili, both Ph.D. candidates at KLU, share their insights.

What were the main takeaways from the workshop?

Dounia Chlyeh: The workshop provided a framework for understanding sustainability challenges and opportunities for developing solutions. Some key points to consider in future research are the need for a comprehensive understanding of the environmental impacts of supply chains and the role of sustainable supply chain management in mitigating these impacts. Stakeholders need to be engaged to drive sustainability, while there’s the potential for digitalization, automation, and other technologies to transform supply chains and improve sustainability. An approach to sustainability that considers the environmental, social, and economic sides of supply chains is also vital. Besides this, a framework was provided to help us communicate our research, which involves identifying our audience and demonstrating the relevancy and benefits of our research to them.

What are the main challenges to achieving supply chain sustainability?

Manijeh Komeili: In Europe, the logistics industry is responsible for twelve percent of global CO2 emissions, which poses a particularly difficult challenge for decarbonization as there’s a total dependence on fossil fuels and freight movement to forecast to grow. There’s also a lack of freight data generation and utilization, while increased greenwashing has led to the birth of green hushing.
From the South African perspective, problems also include high freight demand and heavy reliance on fossil fuels, coupled with very low GDP. South Africa’s land area is almost equal to Germany and France’s combined, yet its GDP is nearly 18 times smaller. This places a bigger financial strain on South African logistics companies. A poor infrastructure, an overreliance on road transport and supply chain inefficiencies, leading to a rise in the cost of logistics are all major challenges. South Africa also doesn’t use carbon credit or carbon taxation systems yet and there’s no clear sustainability legislation.

Is Africa’s perspective different from Europe’s?

Dounia Chlyeh: It is important to remember that sustainability is a global issue requiring a coordinated response. Africa and Europe have committed to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which provide a framework for addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. However, the specific approaches to achieving these goals differ depending on local contexts and priorities.
A key difference between the European and African perspectives on sustainability is the level of resources and infrastructure available to support sustainable development. Europe has a well-developed infrastructure and access to financial resources and technology, while many African countries face significant challenges in accessing these resources and developing the necessary infrastructure to support sustainable development.

What are the solutions for a more sustainable SCM?

Manijeh Komeili: From the African perspective, the solutions proposed include investing in rail infrastructure, reducing core network length, and promoting fuel-efficient transportation practices such as improving driver behavior. Collaboration between stakeholders in the supply chain, including government, industry, and civil society, could help to identify and address inefficiencies and promote more sustainable practices.
From the European perspective, some solutions that have been proposed include reducing reliance on fossil fuels and transitioning to cleaner energy sources such as hydrogen fuel cells, adopting new technologies like 3D printing and onboard carbon capture, implementing local sourcing, and decarbonizing inventories. Moreover, there is a need for continued research and data collection to understand better the challenges and opportunities for sustainable supply chain management.

Dounia Chlyeh: We believe it is vital for both Europe and Africa to implement decarbonizing strategies such as the 10 C approach as well as considering frameworks such as ASI (avoid, shift, improve) and ASIF (activity, structure, intensity, fuel) frameworks, and the Five Decarbonization Levers. Additionally, we would also like to stress the key role of cultural and geographic diversity in the problem-solving process. By bringing together individuals with different cultural and geographic backgrounds, we can draw on a range of experiences, knowledge, and perspectives that can lead to more innovative and effective solutions to complex problems.

Impressions of the workshop